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In honour of Jack Layton, flags flew half-mast at the Terry Fox Memorial on Aug. 27.

Leaving us better than we were

Layton, Laurence and Fox

By Carolyn Pogue

The day after Jack Layton died, my husband and I were driving across the hot Prairies. When we reached Neepawa, Man., we stopped at author Margaret Laurence’s childhood home. It was a pilgrimage of sorts.

Years ago, we’d toured the 1894 home Laurence shared with her grandparents and visited the Neepawa cemetery to see the stone angel, for which her well-known novel is named. On this visit, we noticed changes.

On the lawn, a flag waved in the breeze — a white dove on blue background honouring Laurence’s dedication to the peace movement. Inside, a beautiful sketch by Bill Stapleton showed Laurence chairing the first Arts for Peace conference. Most people know Laurence received many literary awards, honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada. Fewer, perhaps, remember her passion for peace and environmental justice.

I came to love Laurence’s novels when I was a young woman living in Yellowknife. Her work helped me realize that Canada could be an exotic setting for a great story. It taught me that Canadian women might have stories worth telling. It also demonstrated her powerful knowledge of the Bible.

I learned we were connected not only by our shared nationality and love of words, but by our membership in The United Church of Canada. We also shared a desire to leave this world more peaceful, safe and clean. She was active in Project Ploughshares, Energy Probe, Operation Dismantle and other groups working for world peace.

Toward the end of her life she wrote, “Try to feel, in your heart’s core, the reality of others. This is the most painful thing in the world, probably, and the most necessary. In times of personal adversity, know that you are not alone. . . . Know that your commitment is above all, to life itself.”

I felt glad to touch Margaret Laurence’s earth in the sadness of losing Jack Layton. Both he and Laurence died at age 61, felled by cancer. Both gave of themselves for Canada and for the future they knew they wouldn’t live to see. Both were members of the United Church who believed in, and embodied, the social gospel. Not spectators but creative, energetic Christians who apparently believed that their faith set them free — as we say in church every Sunday — “to be the people God created us to be.”

On the day of Jack Layton’s funeral, we left Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park in Ontario and began the beautiful drive around the north shore of Lake Superior.

Near Thunder Bay, we stopped at the Terry Fox Memorial. It was here that Fox had taken his last step on his Marathon of Hope to end cancer. For the most part, visitors here are quiet and reflective, thinking of a young man who wanted to give what he could to battle the disease and encourage others. Sitting there, looking out at the lake, I asked a girl about 10 what she knew about Terry Fox. She knew quite a lot. Her father joined us as I was pointing to the flags flying at half-mast. For a time, the three of us remembered Jack.

I am deeply grateful for lives lived with such generosity.

Please join Carolyn Pogue and Bill Phipps at events in Ontario and Alberta.

•    Oct. 1-3 with Rev. Andrea Harrison in Williamstown, Ont.

•    Oct. 6-13 at The Five Oaks Retreat Centre in Paris, Ont.

•    Oct. 14-16 at Calvary United in Kitchener, Ont.

•    Oct. 22-23 at Fifth Avenue United in Medicine Hat, Alta.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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