And so it begins…

What is “it”? The speculation, naturally. Olivia Chow is just newly widowed, and already there is talk of whether she’ll run for the top job in the NDP. The one incidentally vacated by her late (and much lamented and loved) husband, Jack Layton.

It’s not that I wouldn’t support her if she did run. On the contrary, I think she’d make an excellent leader. She has all the right stuff: strength, dignity, intelligence, warmth, determination. And a terrific sense of humor, too; one that I witnessed firsthand on an election night in Toronto many years ago, when I sat in at her campaign headquarters while she and Jack were handily re-elected to their city council seats. She’s a great lady, is Olivia. And one that I would heartily endorse at any other time.

But not at this time.

The reasons are, or ought to be, self-evident. Grief takes a long time to work through, and it takes a certain measure of privacy. There is no way around it, and no shortcut through it. You cannot grieve and serve the public at full capacity at the same time. Not even if you are as remarkably energetic a politician as Olivia Chow.

She’s had a bit of time to prepare for it, of course, since Jack would have let her in on the fact of his impending death and given her a chance to steel herself for the inevitable. There is no doubt that she was in on all the funeral plans. And I’m sure that behind closed doors, at home or with Rev. Brent Hawkes, who officiated at Saturday’s service, there were a lot of tearful, or nearly tearful, heart-to-hearts going on.

But preparing for grief is not the same thing as living through it. The grieving process does not end with the funeral; it begins there. I have heard that it can take as long as three years to work through fully, and to me, that sounds about right. It certainly tallies with my own grief experiences. The brain must rewire its circuitry; new energy sources must be found, new capacities for affection built and tapped. In the meantime, there is a lot of strangeness and a feeling of unreality, of detachment from the world. There will be unexpected fears, vulnerability, and dreams — not even necessarily nightmarish ones — that you wake up from with involuntary tears running down your face.

Under those circumstances, a super-pressurized leadership run would not go well. You cannot feel strangely detached from the world, as a grieving person, and still engage fully with it, as a politician. You would be pulled in two opposing directions, and the stronger — personal grief — would win.

So, if Olivia is mulling an eventual run for the NDP leadership, after she’s had time to sort her grief out, that’s great. And if she goes for it, she’s got my full support. But that’s probably not her priority right now. As Linda Diebel notes in today’s Toronto Star, even the indefatigable lady herself has admitted to needing some time away from it all: “I am looking to take a few days off to swim in a river — walk in the woods and sleep.”

Take as much time as you need, Olivia. And don’t worry about a thing. Rest, heal, get back to nature, and let the river bring back the good memories to you. Come back energized and refreshed whenever YOU decide. Let the speculators speculate all they like; it’s their prerogative. But yours is to do what YOU need to do. Your constituents will be well-served no matter what you decide. And they will surely understand if you decide not to seek the leadership of the party — this time.

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