Earthquake, lighting, cancer …what can we control?

Just when you wish you had more control over life, God gives you a shake. Sometimes quite literally.

Chalk memorial for Jack Layton (Source: CTV News Aug. 22, 2011)

“Why is my bed moving?” Ron, a 77-year-old palliative patient, cried out yesterday from behind the curtain of his hospital bed. “What’s going on?”

It took a moment for my stepbrother Evan and me to give him an answer. We looked at Andy, my stepdad, who lay sleeping in the next bed. His body convulsed like something out of The Exorcist. And then we realized everything was swaying.

“It’s an earthquake!” Evan yelled. Always one to be tactful.

But Evan was right. It was the 5.9 magnitude quake that hit Virginia and sent tremours through Toronto.

To us it felt like God had reached down, grabbed the tip of Grace Hospital between His index finger and thumb, and gave us all a little shake.

Now there are many ways to interpret this, depending on how you view God… and Climate Change.

For me it was an ironic reminder of just who’s in charge. Sent to a group of people who were already feeling pretty darn powerless.

The 6th floor of Grace Hospital is the “three months or less floor.” Patients are only admitted if they’re expected to ‘check out’ in that time frame.

Andy, 54, was admitted to Grace’s palliative care five weeks ago. And he’d only just learned of his terminal case, stage 4 glioblastoma brain cancer, a year ago.

The duress and drugs his brain are on have been torturing his poor soul. The night before the quake he’d had psychotic episodes. Erratic, violent, frightened behaviour unlike anything we could ever have imagined in a man whose true nature is loving, compassionate and selfless.

It was out of utter exhaustion that Andy was able to sleep through the quake. We don’t need to be reminded of powerlessness.

“It’s going to be okay, Ron,” I said, despite feeling like a liar. The building likely won’t collapse, but you? You’re not getting out of here alive.

As I write this there’s a storm outside. Toronto’s trees are leaning sideways. Thunder’s cracking. Lightning’s flashing pink, red, electric orange. God’s spinning a disco ball.

Overnight the rain will have washed away much of the chalk memorial sketched onto the grounds outside City Hall today in honour of cancer fighter, cancer victim, Jack Layton.

We can hope the writings and drawings stay, but it’s really not up to us.

City Hall covered in messages for Jack Layton. We sure look small from above. (Source: