COLUMN: Oh, to wonder what might have been

Peace Arch News reporter Dan Ferguson opines on what life might be like for Terry Fox – and Canadians – if he were alive today.

Imagine a sunny day on a West Coast beach where a man has come to deliver a speech.

Thousands of people are surrounding the outdoor stage, waiting to see him. A wave of applause ripples through the crowd when he appears. A breeze ruffles his famously curly mop of greying hair, and he flashes his trademark smile as people start chanting his name.

Dozens of journalists record the event. A tangled web of cables connects rows of video cameras on another stage to his microphone. Cameras are connected to satellite trucks parked behind traffic barriers a discreet distance away, all of them broadcasting the moment live on television and the Internet. On another platform, photographers wait with sniper-like patience for a front-page image.

When the man at the microphone looks down for a second, thoughtful and almost a little sad, there is a sudden burst of rapid-fire shutter noise.

He waits for the chanting to stop, then starts, as he always does, by thanking everyone for attending.

That draws another wave of cheering.

He waits for it to die down and then he starts talking about, of all things, quantum mechanics – a branch of physics, he explains, that suggests all possible alternative histories and futures are real, each representing an actual world.

On this anniversary, he says he’s been thinking about what might have happened if things had turned out differently.

What if, in some other reality, he didn’t recover?

There would have been no second journey, no slow walk through the Prairies and methodical  passage through the mountains.

He describes how his heart sank when he thought he would have to quit.

“People were still lining the road saying, ‘Keep going, don’t give up, you can do it, you can make it, we’re all behind you.’ There was a camera crew waiting to film me. I don’t think they even realized that they had filmed my last mile… people were still saying, ‘You can make it all the way, Terry.’ I started to think about those comments in that mile, too. Yeah, I thought, this might be my last one.”

At the memory, the cheering starts again, and again, he waits for it to die down. He likes to think that people would have carried on without him, he says.

He reminds them of what he said.

“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”

He says he would like to believe there still would have been an annual run to raise money to fight cancer, just like the one that was launched to celebrate the anniversary of his arrival on this beach.

He would like to think people would remember that cancer can be beaten.

“Anything’s possible if you try,” he says. “Dreams are made possible if you try.”

He says it again in French, his characteristic West Coast accent more prominent than usual.

There are cheers, and then the chant begins again. “Ter-ry. Ter-ry. Ter-ry.” Louder and louder.

He tries to talk over it, but they are simply too loud, and they will not stop.

He knows what they want. He grins and loosens his tie. He hands his jacket to an aide and rolls up his sleeves.

The cheering become ecstatic.

His RCMP security detail takes up position to his right and left. They know what’s coming.

He wades into the crowd.

“Make a path,” someone shouts, and amazingly, the crowd parts like the Red Sea.

And he begins to run, a familiar hopping gait, arms chopping the air.

There are screams of delight, as people fall in behind.

The Right Honourable Terry Fox, Prime Minister of Canada, is heading for the water to ruin his expensive shoes by dipping his artificial leg in the Pacific Ocean one more time.

Dan Ferguson, a Peace Arch News reporter, imagines what might have been, using actual quotes made by Terry Fox.