lolaraincoat: (snowshoe hare)
[personal profile] lolaraincoat
I just got back from the funeral procession, and then the funeral, for Jack Layton.

The public had been invited to join the procession, after the dignitaries and the mounted police and Jack’s family. [profile] fishwhistle and I had just gotten out of the ER last night (I have had a series of horrible ER visits lately for a complicated, painful but probably temporary and certainly not life-threatening issue: kidney stones complicated by fibroids large enough to block off bits of my urinary tract and now, a kidney infection) but we weren’t going to miss this, and anyway as soon as we got into the crowd of smiling, crying, dancing, hugging, gossiping, singing people I felt ten times healthier.

A bunch of politically-minded bicyclists and musicians made up the end of the procession, which was appropriate for Jack since, as long-serving City Councillor, he helped make Toronto bicycle-friendly in many ways. The musicians included a huge samba drumming section and a sort of pick-up improvised-music horn group called Rambunctious, who were playing New Orleans style marches (but totally improvised) on this occasion. (The bicyclists rang their bells, too.) Fishwhistle – he’s played with Rambunctious before – brought his clarinet and I brought a hand-bell and we marched along with them. There were plentiful saxophones, two or three trumpets, many small percussion instruments, at least one harmonica, and one gorgeous white sousaphone too. The crowd somehow generated a couple of call-and-response songs; one went “Love! And Hope! And Optimism!” and the other “The best prime minister! We never had!” We played and danced in the middle of University Avenue as we waited for the procession to begin. And then it did: we all fell silent as bagpipers came by, and then Jack’s casket, and then the police waved us into line, and we marched, and we played, and we sang. All the musicians shook hands when we got to the end of the route, except for the guy who organized it, who was kept busy by a small swarm of reporters.

The crowd gathered in front of the venue, after the procession, was large – maybe a couple of thousand people where I was, aside from the 800 official guests in Roy Thompson hall and 600 more next door in St Andrew’s church – and full of good feeling. We heard the music and the orations through a pretty good sound system, and more or less faced toward screens on which they could be seen (but which were hidden by tree branches from our vantage point.) Lots of people wearing orange, the color of New Democratic Party. A couple of men in formal black suits, on stilts. At least one woman wearing a fake Jack-style mustache; at least one man in an orange turban. A whole contingent of people who looked like Tamils gathered around a sign that read “Thank you Jack, from the Tamil Community.” Many kids in strollers. Some tears, a few fists raised in the air, a lot of cameras in the air too, much applause and laughter. Only one drunk person. Whoever sang “Hallelujah” during the service left in all the least appropriate verses, but oh well. It turned out that Jack and his family are long-time members of the Metropolitan Community Church; and somehow it was the upbeat, even joyful sermon by the MCC minister that made me sniffly, in the end.

Living here in this orderly and sometimes red-tape-ridden city, I often wish for more of what Mexico City has – that sense of desmadre, the feeling that everything is going to tilt over into chaos at any second (but not always in a bad way.) It was so good to be reminded that Toronto can rise to the occasion once in a while, that we too can improvise celebrations of death and life, and make meaning out of disaster.


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