Layton outpouring a sign of the times

I don’t expect to ever fully understand human nature. I guess that it’s part of my relatively bland and hopefully tolerant personality.

I don’t expect to ever fully understand human nature. I guess that it’s part of my relatively bland and hopefully tolerant  personality.

Often I don’t really know how I’m going to react to any individual situation, thus, I’m rarely shocked by the reaction of others.

However, I have to say I’m not much of a guy for funerals. I’ve attended and participated in my share of them, maybe more that I would have preferred in recent years.

But the somewhat churlish debate over whether or not Jack Layton “deserved” a state funeral, basically passes overhead with me.

It’ll all be over when this appears and no doubt Mr. Layton will have been appropriately laid to rest on the weekend and whether the debate has had any impact will be moot.

I admit I was a little surprised at the overall depth of public reaction to the death of the newly-minted leader of the opposition, but I saw it as another example of the growing phenomena of public participation in the cult of personality and their passing.

Frankly, I saw Jack Layton as a generally good-hearted man with a growing following – particularly since the last election and his subsequent withdrawal from politics to fight a fatal illness.

His funeral and its accompanying examples of a lot of people paying their respects for a person who spent many years in public service is likely a suitable tribute.

Media coverage and minute-by-minute live reporting by CBC and CTV, the marches and candlelight tributes in unfamiliar locations (for Jack), like downtown Edmonton, does tend to raise my eyebrows.

In recent years, the deaths of highly-public personalities like Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and a number of other prominent personalities and (in some cases) some lesser-known people, have sparked remarkable reactions in that public which certainly appears to admire and truly care about the lives and deaths of headline people in the news, have led to acres of flowers, mementos, stuffed animals and other memorabilia.

Crowds have lined the routes of funeral processions for decades – but the unprecedented tidal wave of mourning following the death of Princess Diana seemed to set a new standard of public grief and has been followed more and more by large-scale recognition of death and disaster.  People may argue about the funeral reaction to some of these events, but the thousands lost in world wars are marked annually by a Remembrance Day throughout most countries.

There will be more large-scale acknowledgements and further mourning of the losses suffered by thousands of families in the dastardly 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington, amazingly 10-years ago next month.

There’s no element of condemnation of such increasingly intense public demonstration of grief and remembrance.

Perhaps it is even a sign of a rising human recognition of the finality of death – the colossal loss of life and impacts on so many people of natural disasters like the tidal waves in Japan and Thailand, Hurricane Katrina and earthquakes in Haiti and China, the famine in Somalia or horrible man-made tragedies like the recent shootings in Norway, the 9-11 attacks, with the recognition that these are all relatively recent events.

But there have been so many other tragedies in the past – plagues, pestilence, wars, and even rise of HIV now devastating Africa, to mention a few.

Life is not fair and bad news, I’m afraid, outshouts good news as a source of public interest – and so perhaps more celebrations of a life or numbers of lives is as good a public activity as any and a natural offshoot of the communications age.

Certainly these well attended public demonstrations of grief and the assorted gatherings in various parts of our country, or a genteel public involvement in these tributes, I think, are silver linings and a big advance on such events as the mindless Vancouver hockey riots, deadly race riots and attacks on police in Britain, uprisings and chaos in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East.

A lone piper, helping an honour guard pay tribute to a politician or a member of the armed services, I don’t question – but as I said, I will never fully understand human nature as these things go on simultaneously around the world.

ahewitson@telus.net

 

 

 

 

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