Canadian survivors of the Haitian earthquake have described to the Toronto Star their experience in chilling detail. At the moment the earthquake struck simple everyday choices separated those who survived from those who did not. 

For example the story reports that "A shower was the top priority of Gladys Guerin-Monette, 59, when the Montana Hotel driver came to pick her up at the airport. Her husband, Serge Monette, former director of the Canada-Balkans Judicial Reform Project, suddenly insisted on first visiting his 95-year-old mother-in-law. They were in the safety of her seniors' residence when large parts of the Montana crumbled.

Guylaine Tardif, too, had refreshing water on her mind.

It was the first time that Tardif, a graphic designer, had followed her partner on a job. Jacques Desilets, 60, was in Haiti to help the government set up vocational training programs – a project funded by the Montreal-based Consortium for International Development in Education.

The couple travelled with only carry-on luggage, got through customs quickly and arrived at the Montana shortly after 3:30 p.m. They toured the hotel until it was time for Desilets to meet a colleague in another wing. Tardif wanted to shower, but decided to tag along and meet the colleague's wife.

Minutes later, a terrible shaking sent the foursome sprawling to the floor. The dust was so thick "you couldn't see six inches in front of you," Desilets says.

They called out names to find each other. They stumbled out of the room and made their way to the front of the hotel. Much of it had collapsed, including the section where Tardif and Desilets had their room.

"It was a vision of the end of the world," says Tardif, 47."

The Star reporter says "It was physics and geology on a grand scale. Yet scientists could not have predicted its timing.

Science also falls short in explaining chance circumstances – some would say acts of destiny – that can leave survivors more troubled than death itself. Just ask Martine Garneau.

She was at the guesthouse pool with her fellow volunteers, drinking from a bottle of beer.

"It's so banal you won't believe it, but a fly fell into my beer. Camil did me a favour and went to get me another one in the kitchen," she says, referring to the 60-year-old Perron.

The earthquake hit at that moment, and part of the guesthouse collapsed. The shake was so violent it emptied the water from the pool.

People in the kitchen died, including Perron. Those in the pool survived.

"If he hadn't offered, I would have gone myself," Garneau says, referring to Perron's beer run. "I guess my time hadn't come, and his had. Sometimes you wonder about how things happen.""

Yes how things happen?  There are basically four ways we can try to answer this question.  Using the powers of observation and applying the scientific methodology, but science can tell us how the phenomenon happens but is unable to predict its timing, nor can it predict who would survive or who would not.  We can use the power of the mind, or psychic powers, again this will fall short, and may only succeed in allow its practitioners "flights of fantasy".  You can also try to use the power of reason and philosophize but the accuracy of any prediction and the ability to predetermine survival will be flawed.  Or per chance we can use revelation from the holy scriptures, again all we will be able to learn is that the phenomenon of earthquake and volcanoes exists and they happen, not when and who would survive.

What then should be our attitude to these calamitous events?  For me there is no lesson in it except that everything and everyone comes to an end.  What legacy therefore would we choose to leave behind.  The summary is very well stated in the 99th chapter from the Qur'an titled Zilzal (the Shaking)


1 When Earth is shaken with her (final) earthquake

2 And Earth yieldeth up her burdens,

3 And man saith: What aileth her ?

4 That day she will relate her chronicles,

5 Because thy Lord inspireth her.

6 That day mankind will issue forth in scattered groups to be shown their deeds.

7 And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then,

8 And whoso doeth ill an atom's weight will see it then.

This demonstrates to me, that is not how we die that is important but rather how we lived that is critical.  Let us endeavour to be the best we can so long as we have breath on the face of the earth, everything else is out of our hands.