Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choice, Priorities and Acceptance

I don't know how to start this post. Or rather, I don't know how to diplomatically start this post, so I guess I'll just start. I've never been a fan of sweeping generalizations that encompass a whole sector of people and judge them by the actions of a few. After 9-11, people blamed the followers of Islam as a whole for the actions of a few, which makes as much sense as blaming me for the Troubles in Northern Ireland because I have some Irish in my blood.  If we learned nothing else from the life of Jack Layton, it is that we need to see the individual.

I used to be quick to judge other parents when their children were pitching a fit in the grocery store. They must be bad or indulgent parents-why can't they discipline their children? Well, karma is a bitch and the universe has a sense of humour, and on more than one occasion, my child has been the one flat out on the floor pitching a fit. She gets easily overstimulated, and sometimes the only way she can let us know that she's had enough and can't cope anymore is to pitch a fit. Now I'm the parent other people are judging, yet they don't know the reason. All they see is the behaviour.

I juggle the multiple priorities of self-employed business person, wife, mother, daughter, friend and singer. Often I can keep all the balls in the air, but other times, I have to make tough choices. For example, a year ago, I lost my cousin, brother of my heart, and a memorial was planned for Labour Day weekend 2010 in Field, BC, which is about 3 hours from Calgary.  He was my mother's favorite nephew, no disrespect to the other cousins, but then 84 year old my mother was not able to make the trip to Calgary, and then to Field. She took Murray's death hard, and I didn't think I could leave her alone. In addition, my daughter was going back to school, my mother in law was fighting a losing battle with cancer, and my husband had all he could cope with. Even had I had the means to go to the memorial, it was not the time for me to be away from my family, and so I had to miss saying goodbye in person. It still haunts me, and I suspect that some of my family members think I should have found a way to be there, and don't confuse them with the facts, thank you.

My best friend is here from Australia, and is heading back home soon. Her mother had a massive stroke before Christmas, and my friend has been staying close to home during her visit. We've gone down to see her a couple of times, and hope to squeeze in one more visit if we can swing it. She called hoping to meet me for lunch on Monday halfway between our locations. I had already booked two interviews for a story that has to be completed tomorrow, and I can't manage to complete the interviews and get there in time for lunch. I have to work when the work is there, because my work can be sporadic. I have a lot of work, and tight deadlines, and as much as I want to see my friend again before she leaves, I have to meet my deadlines. I know that once her mom passes away, she probably won't return to Canada as often, if at all. It was a tough choice to have to pass on lunch.

My child is starting Grade 1 at a time when most of my friends my age are sending their children off to university or attending their weddings. My daughter has challenges, not the least of which is anxiety, and she needs routine and consistency to feel safe. She worked herself into a state this afternoon at the grocery store, for example, because she couldn't remember if her stuffed bunny was in the car or had been forgotten, and was almost hysterical by the time we went back to the car over the possibility that her stuffy had been lost. Bunny was fine and my daughter eventually calmed down. It might not seem like something to get into a state about, but to my daughter, it was.

I have responsibilities and I juggle choices and priorities. I take my commitments seriously, and sometimes those commitments clash with what I'd like to do. As much as I wanted to have lunch with my friend, if I don't make my deadlines, I won't have more work. As much as I wanted to go to my cousin's memorial, my husband, my mother and daughter needed me more. And as much as  I would have like to personally attend Jack Layton's funeral in Toronto, I had committed to be at 5pm mass, and I have articles due on Monday. It was not for a lack of desire that I attended via television rather than in person, (And wrote an article at the same time) and I don't think my tears and grief have any less validity because they were shed in my basement instead of Roy Thomson Hall.  It had nothing to do with being from Ontario, which apparently to some, means I don't understand the concept of social democracy (and for the record, I'm from Quebec. I live in Ontario). It had nothing to do with lack of desire, motivation or a sense of malaise-I had other stuff going on that meant I couldn't go. And for the record, it sucked.

The message of inclusion that Jack Layton lived was more than words. He believed it, he demonstrated it and he truly believed that it was possible. Homeless people stood shoulder to shoulder with Bay Street business people as the hearse took its final journey. People from all across Canada, from every race, colour, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation and demographic category shed tears of sadness and disbelief when the news broke that Layton had died. Politics didn't matter, because people recognized that Jack Layton was that rarity-a genuine person committed to making a difference. I think it was Peter Mansbridge (possibly Brian Mulroney) who said that Layton didn't go to Ottawa to be someone, he went to Ottawa to do something. Layton stayed away from personal attacks, and focused on his vision of Canada. His passionate support and concern for ordinary people resonated across the nation, whether you voted for him or not. (and for the record, I did.)

We need to heed Layton's message. We need to look beyond the superficial and try to see the reasons behind it. We need to make less snap judgements and take more time to see the real reasons behind a behavior. We need to make less sweeping generalizations and look more to the individual rather than the demographic, socio-economic, or geo-political entity. We can disagree about a policy or a strategy, but respect the person voicing the other opinion. We can disagree with an idea without denigrating the person. It's the best way to honour Jack's memory.

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Jack Layton, and this business of grief

Jack Layton, NDP leader and leader of the official opposition in Canada died of cancer this morning. He stepped down as leader a month ago to focus on his cancer battle, but anyone who has watched someone fight cancer were shocked and scared for him. Cancer sucks. I know as  writer that's not particularly eloquent or profound, but it sums it up. Cancer sucks.

I never met the man. I wish I had. He always struck me as a man of integrity, honesty and moral righteousness, but in a good way. Friends of mine who did know him attest to those qualities. He cared passionately for people who did not have a voice. He cared passionately for the homeless, the poverty stricken and people other people forgot about or didn't care about. I was comforted by the fact that ordinary Canadians would have a fierce fighter in the House of Commons to represent our interests. The mere fact that Mr. Layton chose to write a letter to Canadians, in effect to say goodbye, shows me the measure of the man. I also think he would have been a grand person to have a conversation with.

 I think this is hitting me particularly hard today because I'm already very emotional. One year ago today, I was sitting waiting for the news that my brother of my heart, Murray, had lost his battle with Hep C. Like Mr. Layton, Murray chose to put others ahead of his health, in his case, taking care of his darling boy Allie. By the time Murray sought medical attention, it was too late.

Grieving has no time frame.  Just when you think you've bested it, something will happen-you find a picture, or hear a song or return to a special place, and grief rushes in full force and overwhelms. There is no right or wrong. There is only grief, and how ever long it takes. Today is a day I feel sad and fragile. It's okay. It shows I care, I loved and was loved.

RIP Mr. Layton. Thank you for your service, your dedication and your example. Murray, I miss you. I keep expecting to hear your gravelly voice on the phone and I still can't believe that won't happen again even though it's been a year. Be at peace.