I had a dream last night that I was in my car, about to exit the parking lot onto the street. On my right, a lady was pushing a baby carriage across the street, oblivious to the oncoming firetruck speeding toward them. Approaching from my left, the truck, equally oblivious to the mother and child in its path, was charging frantically and would not be able to avoid them even if it spotted them. Those vital seconds that followed elapsed in slow motion as my mind agonized over what to do.
I could save the mother and baby only by slamming my own car into the firetruck to change its trajectory, as I'd seen done in so many movies. But the heroes in those movies never faced the brutal dilemma confronting me at that moment. In stopping the firetruck, I would be keeping it from the desperate emergency signaled by its urgent speed and wailing siren. My zealousness might very well end up condemning more lives than I would be saving.
Ultimately, I could act only on what I knew for certain. I had it within my power to save two lives that would definitely be lost if I did nothing. The truck might be heading toward a burning hospital full of children, but it could just as easily be an empty doughnut shop that caught fire precisely because no one was on hand to catch it before it spread. And so I made my decision.
The dream did not continue on to explore any consequences of my decision. Simply making the decision, knowing that there would be consequences, seemed to be the point.
I have long insisted that it is better to know ahead of time what one will do even in the most implausible circumstances, than to find oneself caught with no idea what to do when the time comes. Yet, were I faced with that very situation in real life, I'm still not sure what I would do. The logic of my choice seems sound to me now, dream though it was, but, truthfully, I wonder if one can ever know absolutely how one will act prior to the moment itself.