Thursday, December 30, 2004


I just heard on the news about an Australian woman who had to choose which of her two children to hold onto during the flooding in Asia. When I heard the coming-up blurb, I thought “oh, another one of those kind of stories.” But when I heard the report I was horrified on some existential level. She was holding on to her toddler and her 5 year old, and wasn’t going to be able to keep holding on. She was convinced, she said, that the older child was dead, and thus chose to let him go. He was found alive hours late floating on a car door. Happy ending, says the news. WHAT!!

I’m scared for life just hearing the story. The choice is truly horrifying, but the woman could not have been too convinced that the boy was dead. She just willed herself a reason to do what she had to, which was let one go. Now, she knows she was lying to herself, and she has to look at the kid she was prepared to let die every day. Then, there’s the fact that she’s more guilty of doing something wrong in a complex parent guilt way than if the kid had died, which means it has to enter the back of her mind that if the kid had died, her life might be better. I’m not saying anything against the woman at all – but can you imagine living with yourself after this. It reminds me of the cruel old testament god who would make someone decide to sacrifice his child, then say, in essence, “psyche!” Also, isn’t this complex moral topic (the necessary sacrifice that survives) the subject of Touching the Void (I didn’t see the movie, but I think its about 2 mountain climbers, one of whom has to be cut free over a big crevasse, but lives).

These stories might strike home for me more because my whole family was, while in a car, directly hit by a tornado about 6 or 7 years ago. We were driving (down from Nashville through the Huntsville area which is the second most active tornado area in the world – did you know 2/3 of all the worlds tornados are in the US? Weird, huh) ahead of a bad weather front. We stopped for food, and as we pulled out onto the road back to I-65, the visibility dropped to close to zero, and I saw, for a split second, a funnel touch down in a ditch 50 ft from the car, and in a split second, the windows of the car vaporized into a hail of tiny cubes, and the sound was like being convertible in a car wash x20. Swirling earth filled everything. I was leeward, and so my feet got buried in earth and roofing tiles. My wife wrenched her back throwing herself over the baby, and got hit in the side of the head with some roofing material (she had tinnitus for a month). Everyone had dicing injuries but, other than the above-mentioned injuries to my wife, was pretty OK.

But I always think back to why I didn’t act quicker somehow. Floor the car, try to help the children like my wife, something. But in my mind at the time I was the driver, and was at a loss to specifically see how moving would be better than standing still (read: I was in shock, and froze up). Backing up would have been bad - one of those roadside signs (the ones with the lighted arrow and the 2 wheels, with little rectangle letters you stick up – do you know how big and heavy those things are?) crushed our trunk. But what if someone had died – how would I have felt about this not making whatever decision would have prevented it?
I feel really sorry for all of the victims of this tragedy, but I also feel sorry for this woman who did would she had to do, and lucked out, but will have to live with the fact of what she was willing to do for the rest of her life.


At 6:54 PM, Blogger jon said...

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