Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jack Layton remembered in "Celebration of Life" liturgy in Roy Thomson Hall

An academic gown on a male clergy, Rev. Brent Hawkes, and an opening note that Jack always asked,
"How's John doing?" whenever he met the pastor who then added, "John is my husband." The academic gown was in respect to the multiple faiths represented both in the liturgy and in the congregation at Jack Layton's funeral, a Celebration of Life.
Blessed by the First Nations Chief, Shawn Atleo, with both an invocation of the spirits of our ancestors, and a few spots of "eagle down" and then he asked Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, to accept a give of an eagle feather from the First Nations peoples "from sea to sea to sea," the service included intimate eulogies from son Michael and daughter Sarah, as well as a powerful rhetorical juggernaut from Stephen Lewis, former NDP Leader in Ontario, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and currently head of his own foundation to attack the blight of HIV-AIDS in Africa. Declaring the 'farewell letter' from Layton, written almost precisely one week to the hour of the Lewis eulogy, a manifesto for "social democracy," Lewis pulled no punches in celebrating the achievments of Jack Layton on behalf of homeless Canadians, gay and lesbian rights, the environment, world peace and improving the lot of ordinary people, while at the same time challenging all of those listening, (inside Roy Thomson Hall were the Prime Minister along with at least a half dozen of his cabinet ministers as well as both former Prime Ministers Martin and Chretien) to work for a more equal and a more generous Canada, and to do that work in a spirit of cooperation and collegiality, rather than in the "vituperative practice of the political arts," an obvious and unveiled smack at the politics of political assassination that has become vogue in Ottawa.
Several standing ovations greeted Lewis' exhuberant presentation of the "gusto" of Jack Layton, never more in evidence than when the two men spoke together about their grandchildren, Layton of his grand-daughter, Beatrice.
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was sung by former member of Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page, and a favourite of Jack and Olivia."Rise Up" was performed by Lorraine Segato with the choir from Metropolitan Church,  the church home of the gay and lesbian community in Toronto, where Jack and Olivia worshipped.
A short video depicting several of the more well-known scenes from Jack Layton's life was shown, in which his widow, Olivia Chow, reminded everyone that the best wayto honour Jack was to "move on"
and to work together on to achieve the ideals for which he strove.
Readings, in French from the Christian Bible by interim NDP leader Yvonne Turmel, as well as from the Jewish Torah and the Qur'an of the Islamic faith punctuated the early part of the liturgy.
Spontaneous applause greeted the casketon its emergence from Toronto City Hall, from the hearse prior to entering Thomson Hall, and again on its emergence from the service, as well as along the route to and from Thomson Hall.
Jack Layton's ashes, following cremation, will be separated into three portions, one to be buried in St. James Cemetery in downtown Toronto, a second to be scattered on Toronto Islands where Jack and Olivia were married  in 1988, and a third to be buried in his hometown of Hudson Quebec.
If those present in the hall, on the streets outside, in Pecaut Park adjacent to Thompson Hall, and across the country were actually to listen and respond to the challenge issued by Rev. Hawkes at the close of both his homily and the liturgy, "to pick up the torch that has been passed from Jack Layton" and do our part both individually and together, to make Canada a better country, who knows what his legacy can and will be?

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