A runaway trolley is racing downhill. If I hurry to the switch, I can divert the trolley to another track, that is, if I understand switches. Sunlight crinkles on the storefront windows, under a fresh spring sky as blue as a crayon, and I and my philosophical girl friend, with nothing but coffee and little wrapped chocolates and late afternoon lovemaking and ontological nothingness on our minds, are walking arm in arm down the leafy avenue, and now this! But divert the trolley toward what? Undiverted, it will surely crash into a second trolley full of innocents, but what of the five girl scouts on the other track? If I didn’t know better, I’d think I had strolled into a dilemma devised by an ethicist to test my convictions. Should I continue to deceive my girl friend about how I spend my weekends, or would the consequences of leveling with her be perhaps more damaging to both of us? Surely I can’t do Nothing. Two trolleys full of passengers are at stake. On the other hand, the girl scouts, their youth. Is there a way to quantify the downsides? The roasted pungency of deeply distressed coffee beans wafts from the door of the charming café, beckoning us. I think I should just tell her. The fat man, startlingly fat, fat enough to divert a train, has lost his footing at the curb. The merest touch against his back will tip him into the path of the careening trolley. Saving everyone? Except the fat man? And me, of course. Who flips the switch and gets away with it? Who pushes the fat man has to live, too. I will tell her, but probably not today. She looks at me and laughs her little philosophical laugh, that gets me every time.
Copyright © March 15, 2007 David Hodges