Jack Layton’s Last Lecture


So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning. — Morrie Schwartz, in Tuesdays with Morrie.

What struck people were the words, carefully crafted on a deathbed.

Quickly, they were made into a poster that will surely grace the walls of dorm rooms this September. They were words of optimism and hope, the last telegraph from a man who had one foot in this world, another tapping on the door to the great unknown.

It wasn’t Jack Layton, the politician, who was speaking. It was Jack Layton, the professor, who felt compelled to leave his last testament to inspire young Canadians, people living with cancer and those drowning in their troubles who had lost hope. His words took flight, soaring through cyberspace on Facebook and Twitter; they were words not unlike those of Randy Pausch, another professor dying of cancer, whose final words went viral in The Last Lecture. Words not unlike the original professor, Morrie Schwartz, who was immortalized in a book read by millions, Tuesdays With Morrie.

At the end of days, Jack Layton, the wily strategist wanted to leave a bigger legacy than that of a championship political boxer. In the horrendous days leading up to a difficult death, his spirit transcended his frail body and he wanted to impart the lessons learned over his too short life, to give Canadians a taste of the elixir of life that had kept him fueled up to fight for the homeless, the down-trodden, the helpless, the elderly.

The final letter may have been crafted over a few hours, as Jack sat up in bed giving final instructions to his staff, but its contents, no doubt, had been percolating in his mind and heart for some time.

Jack’s letter was a profession of faith. Faith that Canadians could work together to make this country, this world, a better place for all. Faith that our young people would put down the video controllers and pick up the torch. Faith that Canadian politicians could put aside their differences to make Parliament work for the public good. Faith that his party faithful would finish what he started. Faith that the cancer that finally silenced him would finally be beaten.

Like Morrie and Randy, Jack wanted to give one last lecture. He still had things to say. And when we read the words of the now departed, we heard his voice clear as a bell. We saw that grin and the twinkle in his eye.

And we listened.

Ah, Jack, thanks for this gift. We will treasure it always.

I’m putting your words up as my screen saver, to inspire me the next time I’m ready to give up.

Safe journey.

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