Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Choice

"You take the baby and the toddler and go to Pottery Barn and I and the three year old will catch up with you there when we're done here," she said.  Thinking he understood his wife's thinking, the father carried the baby and escorted the toddler by the hand across the busy divided four-lane highway when the light was right and started for the mega-store entrance with the two children firmly in his charge.

Because the father, now a law student, wasn't too far removed from police work, he could sense that something was wrong and he looked back.  The mother had told the little boy to "wait here" on the sidewalk on the far side of the busy roadway for daddy to return for him while she headed a short way away to retrieve the nearby vacant stroller.  A potentially deadly error in judgment, she should have brought the boy with her that thirty feet, tired though he was.

The boy immediately wandered into the road to go to daddy, with swift traffic bearing down upon him in the two lanes he was crossing with two further lanes of rushing cars separating him from his daddy.  The dad, carrying a baby and holding a toddler by the hand, was appalled by the developing situation but he quickly ran through his options.  The boy would certainly get killed if he wasn't immediately rescued.

If the father set the baby down and let go of the toddler and left him on the sidewalk and ran across the street, he might get killed himself in traffic but he also might somehow save the boy.  This was worth the risk to him.

But it was likely that he would be struck in traffic as he ran across four lanes of traffic and killed or incapacitated and the boy would be killed anyway too, but also that the toddler would likely follow his father into the street and be killed as well.  Three deaths instead of two or one.

The father looked at the little boy in the roadway, kept holding the baby and gripped the toddler's hand tight.  He had made his choice, to trade one life for two or three.  It was agonizing to choose to allow one child to die as he watched the onrushing band of Chevys and Fords bear down on the oblivious boy, and he would trade his life for a hopeless attempt at rescue, but he couldn't trade the highly probable death of the toddler, now safe, for that boy's life with the possible harm to the baby as well if he abandoned them in a long-shot gamble to dart across four lanes of rushing traffic in a rescue attempt.

His former life flowed into this moment as he declined to act, no matter how hopelessly, and a future life of permanent grief stood beckoning him as he watched death come for his oldest child.  He was incredibly sad but resigned in that moment of terrible conscious choice.

Then providence intervened.  The drivers in each foremost car in the two far lanes saw the little boy in the roadway in time and stopped dead on the busy highway, jamming up the honking traffic behind them.  The mother swiftly returned from her ill-chosen task and fetched the child.  In a happy jumbled rush of emotional relief the father's former life returned to him, at least for another dozen years before he permanently lost all three of his children to spousally-induced estrangement during the divorce.

Happy 61st birthday, Sharon.  How are Jimmy, Johnny and Danny?

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