I first met Jo Cox around five years ago, on the houseboat in Wapping where she lived. She was with her first baby, Cuillin, and was feeding him with one hand while helping organize a community event at Hermitage Docks with the other.
My first impression of her was of intense warmth. She was funny, fierce, capable, and direct. She was tiny, but seemed unstoppable: a down-to-earth northern lass with a great big soul. At that point, she had already dedicated years of her working life to trying to make the world a bit better for some of the people who are most brutalized by it.
When I was a new mom, a successful day was managing to put my clothes on the right way round and maybe finishing a sentence. It was immediately obvious that Jo did so much more than that. She was clearly someone whose capacity for love and generosity didn't stop at her own front door, or with people who shared her opinions, background, or ethnicity.
Loads of us have youthful hippie ideals that we mislay under pressure of grown-up life and kids, giving up and getting older and fatter somewhere with a comfy sofa. I remember being impressed by Jo precisely because that comfy sofa was nowhere to be seen. She seemed to live in a way that was bohemian and adventurous, modest and austere. I remember her talking about how amazing it was to have her baby in a community where neighbors dropped in with gifts of food—and how he found it soothing to be cradled safely on a boat rocked backward and forward by nanny Thames.
I wasn't a close friend of Jo's: I saw her from time to time through our mutual friend Gemma Mortensen, who set up an NGO with Jo's husband, Brendan Cox. Gemma and two of Jo's friends have now set up Jo Cox's Fund, with Brendan's support—at the time of writing, it's collected more than $1.1 million of donations for Jo's favorite causes.
For many of us, work/life balance is a narrow equation: a question of doing something bearable that pays the bills and doesn't totally screw up your life and human relationships. Jo's work was clearly more of a mission—as anyone who has marveled at her many achievements in these last few days can see. She had the authenticity that we often wish for in our politicians, More, she had an innate goodness that politicians who present themselves as authentic often do not have. Authenticity is being the same on the inside as out, and Jo was beautiful in both respects.
In the last week, so many people I know have been talking about how sad and scary and mad they think the world is. And how they're anxious for the future and don't know what to do. If you judged the world by the brutal hate crimes of the last ten days, or the cowardly poison spat out on the bottom half of the internet, then it would make you despair of being human.
Related: Watch, from VICE News, eyewitnesses try to make sense of Jo Cox's murder
But Jo's brutal murder has shone a light on someone who is the complete opposite of that. It flings down the gauntlet to everyone who's cried because we couldn't afford to lose her, or been inspired by her example. Commenting and donating to help people in Syria are great, but we need to do more. I think the reason so many of us are depressed and scared is because it feels as though there's a tide of hate and fear rising in the world. This could turn that tide.
It could inspire them to come together and make a new kind of politics. Something that's less narrow, argumentative, and partisan, and more generous. It has inspired me to check myself and ask: Am I doing what I do and living my life out of laziness, vanity, or sheer habit—or out of love? I think that the least we can all do is to come together and stand up for love, no matter how idealistic that sounds. Not just within our own four walls but also in the wider world beyond them.
Wednesday, June 22, would have been Jo Cox's 42nd birthday. Her friends and colleagues are organizing simultaneous events all over the world. In London, her neighbors from Hermitage Docks will sail a dinghy full of flowers and tributes up the Thames. At 4 PM, there will be a mass public event in Trafalgar Square, to celebrate her life and the love that was at the heart of it. The theme is #MoreinCommon—a quote from her maiden speech in Parliament, in which she argued that the things which unite us are greater than the things that divide us. I hope it's the start of something as extraordinary as she was. I'll be there either way.
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