Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jack dies. The earth moves.

Canada was rocked yesterday with news that Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, lost his battle with cancer. He was 61.

As leader of the perennial #3 party for the past eight years, he never became prime minister, never lorded over Parliament Hill, never tasted the ultimate pinnacle of power. His party, a somewhat left-leaning organization whose union-, family- and community-friendly policies often stood in stark contrast to the more fiscally strident focus of the Conservatives, has traditionally been just a little too far away from centrist to grab the attention of Canada's mainstream.

But here's the thing: Mr. Layton managed the impossible in a political career that spanned a generation and took him from Toronto city council to one of the most influential positions in federal politics. His everyman appeal and ability to relate the political process to the people it served helped him grow his party's fortunes during his leadership. The NDP served as an increasingly influential balancing factor in federal politics, a counter to the policies of opposing parties who often seemed to forget who they were serving.

Jack, as he was comfortably known, never seemed to forget. And it all paid off this last May when, in a stunningly historic victory, the party paved Quebec orange and became the official opposition for the first time ever.

I don't write this to be maudlin. I write it for perspective. Because as headlines screamed news of today's earthquake that touched most of the U.S. and Canadian east coast region, it occurred to me that some of us may have lost it.

Here's the bigger picture: On Sunday, a tornado destroyed the center of town in Goderich, Ontario. An employee at the Sifto salt mine, Normand Laberge, died as he tried to escape the lakeside boom crane he had been operating. Earlier this year, a magnitude 9.0 quake - over 1,000 times stronger than today's - and tsunami left 20,000 people dead or missing in Japan. Last year's Haiti quake (at 7.0, over 10 times as intense) left upwards of 85,000 people dead, a million homeless, and an already-decimated economy in an unimaginably worse shambles.

Somehow, watching office workers mug for the cameras that descended on the scene as they evacuated their buildings seems a little ridiculous given the real losses, large and small, faced by others. In the end, it was a harmless diversion. Let's define it as such, and let's move on. False drama doesn't become us. There's enough real drama - and real loss - to go around.

Your turn: Thoughts?


Carli said...

I was in NYC, Carmi, and I think our reaction was a combination of gratitude (that no one was hurt and that the shaking was a small earthquake and not a big terrorist attack somewhere in the city), awe (an earthquake in NY?) and perhaps defiance against a world that has shaken us up in so many ways.

I don't think that easing our anxiety with a little humor and camaraderie reduces how much we feel for victims of true tragedies.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Carmi, I agree w/you... maybe the mugging at the camera was a (immature) way for those to deal w/something that was out of their control? I have a hard time wrapping my brain around people who rioted when Rodney King was arrested... Innocent man was pulled from his cement truck at a stop light and was beaten senseless because he was white. wth is up w/that???
(btw, the 'metal work'is a hanging piece in my yard- as far as vibrant I was going for the really blue sky) :-)

carli said...

Maybe I can put this in better perspective: When the blackout happened several years ago, I panicked. I called my mother from work and told her I was quitting my job and moving away. I begged my co-workers to leave with me so I'd have someone to walk with to the ferry, where I worriedly waited with hundreds if not thousands of people trying to get off the island. The panicking did no one any good.

Flash forward to yesterday. I'm older, I've been to therapy, I have a different perspective on things. My computer shook and I thought it was just construction of some sort going on right below me. Then I realized that everyone on the floor had felt it. We went to the windows to find people in other buildings also looking out the windows. We were all nervous. I made a joke that I couldn't be too nervous since I hadn't put down my box of Captain Crunch. I checked Twitter and, to my relief, it looked like a minor earthquake had struck, that it was not a terrorist attack, and that the likelihood was that no one was hurt. That, for me, was grounds for a huge sigh of relief. The next hour was filled with uncertainty as alarms went off (with no instructions as to what to do) and people struggled to reach their loved ones, to assure them that everything was alright. Yes, we joked. I suggested we make sure there were no UFOs hanging over Manhattan, which led to a conversation on disaster movie archetypes. We sang "I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet" almost by instinct.

I learned a long time ago that humor is a better antidote to fear than panic.

I would hardly compare that to rioting in the streets.

Kavi said...

Our worlds have so many quakes. Some that nature brings and some we as humans inflict on ourselves. In India, we are in the middle of one.


Several readers may not get the context. But the key point is this : Some of us just will keep our heads down and get on with life, and yet make a difference in our own small ways.

Thanks for writing about Jay Layton. Was an education of sorts for me.