Hanging Off a Cliff: Would You Save Your Child or Your Spouse?

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You know that age-old question: If your spouse and your child were hanging over the edge of a cliff and you could only save one of them, which one would you choose?

danger cliff edge sign

Credit Image: goldberg on Flickr

I vividly remember arguing over this question on my elementary school playground. Why my friends and I were debating spouses and children when we were still playing foursquare is beyond me, but there were very strong opinions all around. At the time, I thought I would save my spouse, because we could then make more babies, as if replacing babies were like replacing appliances. Most of my friends thought they would save their babies, because they could always remarry, and anyway, boys are icky. I thought I was clearly in the right, and a hopeless romantic to boot. (I also believed in soulmates until around the age of 21.)

I enjoyed questions like this as a kid, and I hate them now. As a kid, I liked them because there was no remote possibility I would be given the authority to take action, so I could consider them responsibility-free. It was a purely academic exercise. I also didn't know myself very well, and it's fun learning about yourself. Kids are always testing out what they'd do in a given situation—would you be Ginger or Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island? Will you live in a mansion, a house, an apartment or a shack? When will you get married? How many kids will you have? It's all fun and games when it's decades in the future or physically impossible, right?

I hate these questions now because my morality and choices get tested all the time. I know if I will take the crap job in order to pay my mortgage (I have). (Not this one.) I know whom I will marry and why I will marry him. I know I will not get to choose at which age I meet him. I know that while I love him, he is not my soulmate because I do not have a soulmate. Only I can decide if I will be happy or not—no one else can do this for me. I know if I will return the money I found on the ground (I did, but it sucked). I know the chances of me winning the lottery are lower than the chances of me getting in a serious car accident, but I don't seriously contemplate the outcome of either one. I know I will only have one child, because that was a conscious decision my husband and I made after years of discussions. I know how lucky I am to have that one child in a way no fourth-grader can even comprehend. And I also know that someone with generalized anxiety disorder should not create new opportunities for herself to ponder horrible things that could happen but most likely will never ever happen. I spend my days batting away intrusive thoughts the way it is. What was that noise? Did I shut off the stove? What if my daughter's school bus gets in an accident on the way home? When will the icebergs all melt? (That was yesterday.) I would no sooner invite in thoughts of more horrific scenarios than I would a mud-covered German Shepherd.

If my husband and my daughter were hanging over a cliff and I could only save one? I would dig the fuck in and die trying to save them both. But honestly, what are we doing hanging off cliffs in the first place? Seriously? Seriously.

If you're not like me and you enjoy pondering horrible scenarios, here are a few more from the book If ..., which was a very stupid purchase for me.

If you could have survived any historic disaster, which would you choose?

If you just learned you were going to die in exactly one hour, what would you do?

If you could keep only one of your limbs, which one would you keep?

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com. Find more at www.ritaarens.com.

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