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Fiction. © Copyright 1998, Jim Loy
This is both a short story and a play. See the author's note at the bottom.
Four friends were sitting around a fireplace, chatting.
Susan: I read in the paper that the police shot and killed a man who was threatening to commit suicide.
William: Nah, can't be.
Susan: It was in the paper.
Marty: I think it sounds stupid enough to be true.
Phillip: I couldn't be a cop. I couldn't shoot anybody.
Marty: Yeah. You'd have find some other way to stop all those suicides. (Laughter).
William: Shooting people is not the main part of their job. Sometimes they save lives, too.
Susan: I don't even know if I could save a life. Like, I might panic.
Phillip: I've got a question that I've been curious about, folks.Would you give up your life to save the life of a stranger?
Marty: Hell no!
William: I find that hard to believe.
Marty: Hey! It's my life. Don't tell me that I would give my life. You don't know. My life is more important to me than some stranger's life. It's my life, OK?
William: That sounds kinda selfish.
Marty: Well, I don't think I'd kill to save my life. Listen. Let's say some guy died in the 15th Century. So what? Another guy died last year in China. That's closer to home. My neighbor dies, and I'm very upset. It's only natural that different deaths have different impacts on me. I'm just saying that my life is very important to me. A stranger's life is important to me, but not as important as my life.
William: Well, I'm sorry. But I suppose you would give your life if it was someone you loved? I'd give my life to save my wife or my sons.
Phillip: Yeah. It's sorta built into us by evolution, right?
Marty: Don't think so. I wouldn't give my life to save my daughter or my wife.
William: I find that very hard to believe. How about both of them, both your daughter and your wife?
Marty: Yeah. Maybe. It sounds like simple arithmetic. One life might be worth less than two. But it's my life. Don't go making assumptions about what I would do. It sounds like you would give up your life?
William: Absolutely, without hesitation.
Marty: Well, I find that hard to believe. You don't know what you'd do in a crisis.
William: You may not know what you'd do in a crisis. But, don't say that I don't know. I know I'd give up my life.
Marty: Don't you want to live?
William: Sure I do. But it's heroic and noble to give your life. I think it elevates a person from merely human into something better than human. There are things that are more important than life.
Phillip: I don't know what I would do. I'd like to think that I would give up my life. But I don't really know. I think that nobody knows what they would do in a crisis.
Marty: I know what I'd do. I'd get the hell out of there. Am I the only coward here?
Marty: Thanks a lot.
Susan: I didn't mean that. I meant maybe I would give my life. It would depend. Like, I wouldn't give up my life to save Hitler.
William: I guess I would have to think twice about Hitler, or a convicted killer, or a rapist.
Phillip: How about a racist?
Marty: How about a woman driver?
Marty: Sorry! But, how am I going to enjoy life, if I can't be crude and insensitive?
Susan: How about a Republican? (Laughter).
Marty: If it was the President, I'd pull the trigger.
William: Hey the CIA would like to hear you say that.
Susan: Secret Service. The Secret Service protects the President.
Marty: That was a joke, OK?
Susan: Good joke. Sorta like your "woman driver" joke.
Marty: Hey, they can't all be works of art. But, I wouldn't give my life to save the President. I voted for the jerk. I'd like to undo that mistake.
Phillip: What about an old person. I figure they've lived their life, give me a chance to live.
William: Yeah, maybe. If it was a child, you know a child has so much potential.
Marty: I doubt it. At least I'd have to look at his test scores before I'd save a kid. (pause). Hey, that was another joke, OK?
Susan: It's interesting that you have to point out that your jokes are jokes.
Marty: Yeah? Up yours!
Susan: Was that another joke? (Laughter).
Phillip: I can see where I'd risk my life. I might not just throw it away. But I might risk it to save a life.
William: You mean like swim through shark-infested waters?
Phillip: Yeah, except I can't swim.
William: OK, wade through shark-infested waters. (Laughter).
Phillip: Let's say a guy pulls a gun in church, and says he's going to kill everybody unless someone volunteers to die. You could save the whole congregation by volunteering. Would you volunteer?
William: I might wait to see if someone else will volunteer first.
Phillip: Yeah, but you could save his life...
Susan: Or her...
Phillip: ... or her life, by volunteering.
Marty: Hey! He... or she... wants to be a hero. I say let him... or her.
Phillip: OK, you're on the Titanic, and you can save your life by pretending to be a woman.
Marty: I'm a coward, OK? I'd lie, cheat, or steal to save my life. But, pretending to be a woman so that somebody else will die seems pretty low down. I don't think I'd do it. I guess I got limits.
Susan: I assume I don't have to pretend to be a woman. (Laughter). But, if someone's going to die because I did something unethical, I suppose I'd give up my life to save them.
William: I'd have to give up my life.
Marty: No, no, no. It's got to be a choice. No religion or code of morality should force you to do something like this.
William: Yeah, you're right! That would be even more noble to choose. I guess I would give the situation some thought. And, then I'm sure I would give my life. It's a choice, like, "Do I want a dish of chocolate ice cream?" "Yes, every time."
Marty: Goll, giving your life is like eating chocolate ice cream?
William: Not exactly.
Phillip: But, how about in a war? If you're in the army, you supposedly accepted the idea of dying for your country. Aren't you expected to give your life for your buddies?
Marty: I guess I'd go to Canada. I don't want to be in that situation.
William: I think soldiers feel invulnerable, most of the time. They do heroic things without thinking of the danger.
Phillip: What about a woman. Would you give your life for a woman more readily than you would for a man?
Susan: Not me.
Marty: If it was a woman, I'd kill her myself.
William: I knew you'd say that. Let me know when one of your jokes is a work of art.
Marty: The one about the kid's test scores wasn't bad.
Phillip: What if it involved your worst fear? I'm afraid of snakes. I don't know if I could even wade through even harmless snakes to save somebody's life.
Susan: Of course you could.
Phillip: I don't know.
Marty: I'm afraid of death. Hey, death might really hurt.
William: Yeah! I might chicken out if death involved being crushed or beheaded.
Susan: Yuck! I might chicken out, too.
Marty: Yeah, being beheaded might not even be very painful. But, I'd be scared.
Phillip: How about, you and a stranger are about to get killed by red hot lava, and one of you can reach safety by standing on the shoulders of the other.
Marty: I guess a quick game of rock, scissors, paper would be appropriate. (Laughter).
Susan: Work of art.
William: Work of art.
Phillip: I agree, work of art. How about a doctor? Would you give your life to save a doctor?
Marty: Let him die.
Phillip: How about an artist?
Marty: Maybe if he was Monet. Not Picasso. If he was so great, how come his paintings suck? (Laughter).
Phillip: Marty, you apparently wouldn't give up your life to save someone. Would you give up your eyes or an arm, or a leg, or what?
Marty: I don't know. Maybe not an eye. That's too much like death. Probably an arm or a leg. Maybe not. How about a finger? I'd go for that. Maybe three or four fingers.
William: So your arm is more valuable, to you, than someone else's life?
Marty: Well, I'm kinda attached to it. (Laughter). Goll, I don't know if I'd even want to live without my arm. It might be a disgusting life without one arm.
Susan: Bull. It'd be easy. You'd learn to live without it.
Marty: Maybe so. But, at the time, it might seem like the end of the world.
Phillip: How about the Mona Lisa, would you give up your life to save the Mona Lisa?
Marty: Uh, I think she's dead.
Phillip: Very funny. I, of course, meant the painting.
Marty: I might give up my life for the Mona Lisa.
William: You wouldn't die for a human. How can you give up your life for a painting?
Marty: Well, I wouldn't give up my life for Washington Crossing The Delaware. But the Mona Lisa's really great. It's immortal. It's better than a human being.
William: I don't like your sense of what's important.
Marty: Listen, it takes an occasional Leonardo to elevate the human race above the other animals. I think that, on the average, the human race is pretty disgusting. It takes a Newton or a Leonardo to make the human race worthwhile.
The debate gradually ground to a halt. The four friends drove away in separate directions. Marty gave William a ride home. On the way home, they stopped as they saw a disturbing sight. In an otherwise peaceful community, smoke and fire was pouring out the upstairs windows of a house. There were no fire trucks there. William called the fire department, on his cellular phone.
As they watched the fire, and waited for the fire trucks, a woman ran out of the burning building. She was screaming that her child was still in the house. Marty ran into the burning house. He disappeared into the smoke and flames.
Several fire trucks arrived. Firemen entered the building and pulled Marty out. He appeared to be lifeless. As they put him into an ambulance, he opened his eyes. He smiled, when he saw William looking at him with concern.
William said, "You didn't even give me a chance to be the hero."
Marty replied, coughing, "Hey. It's my life." Marty later died of his injuries. The child, who he had tried to save, had escaped the burning building through another door.
Author's note: The above story may make an effective play. The dialog would be mostly unaltered. The curtain would fall as the debate winds down. Then the curtain rises to the same scene with William sadly, haltingly addressing the audience:
William: After the conversation, which you have just witnessed, Marty offered to give me a ride home, in his car. On the way home, we stopped as we saw a disturbing sight. In an otherwise peaceful community, smoke and fire were pouring out the upstairs windows of a house. The fire trucks had not yet arrived. I called the fire department, on my cellular phone. Marty got out of the car. A woman ran out of the building. She screamed that her child was still in the house. Marty ran into the burning house. He disappeared into the smoke and flames. Several fire trucks arrived. Firemen entered the building and pulled Marty out. He appeared to be lifeless. As they put him into an ambulance, he opened his eyes. He smiled at me. I said to him, "You didn't even give me a chance to be the hero." Marty replied, "Hey. It's my life." Marty later died of his injuries. The child, who he had tried to save, had escaped the burning building through another door. [curtain]
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