Every death over the years feels like a piece of life ripped away. A hole left in the very air we breathe. When it concerns an elder, we often add the phrase "end of an era" to emphasize our sense of loss.
But this time, with the passing of Akaka Sataa, the watershed is real, the demark historic, and the significance worth pausing over.
Others will testify better than I can to the sheer competence that would have led to pride and impatience in most other men. But Akaka's humility was utter. Gentleness radiated from him. His strength was profound, bespeaking a phenomenal courage acquired and tested in solitude.
What made him an archetype, however, a rare example of human potential, was the sheer intensity and purity of his attention.
In later years, as his body bent and the daily trek into the public square left him almost unable to straighten, his impact on anyone who greeted him remained electrifying.
I have met very few people during my own nearly seven decades of life who, when their gaze turned towards another human being, it almost bowled them over with its sheer openess. English doesn't have as good a word for this as French does: "disponibilité". The closest we can come to it is 'availability', but that doesn't convey the active intensity. Somehow, 'available' leaves us still aware of the distractions that have temporarily been set aside.
With Akaka, you were everything. The universe paused and focused on your next breath to the exclusion of all else. A moment of pure awakedness.
Those who could make the transition quickly enough had an opportunity to tumble into a sample of eternal peace. Those whose own attention was too preoccupied to surrender to the moment could mutter a perfunctory greeting and move on without giving offence. Yet the experience lingered. Perhaps for a few seconds, perhaps to return days or months later. A realization of an opportunity squandered.
With Akaka's death, what has passed from the experience of life in Iqaluit might indeed be epocal. An era in which interpersonal grace could seem routine, if we chose to indulge.