16 December 2016

The Hardest Choices

I went for a long run one Saturday morning long ago, and it was a glorious early-fall day.  The air was cool and clear, there was almost no traffic, and the trees were just beginning to turn.  I had found a new route that went almost entirely through wooded areas, and the beauty of the area was amazing.  It would have been a perfect run if it hadn't been for the chipmunk that I found on the road.

It looked like it had been hit by a car because it couldn't move anything behind its midsection.  It was clawing at the road with its front legs and looking around itself, but it simply couldn't move.

All of a sudden, I was faced with a dilemma that I didn't even want to consider.  I could do one of two things--I could continue running and leave the animal there on the road to suffer a great deal until it either starved to death, got run over by another car, or got eaten by some predator, or I could do the humane thing and kill it and put it out of its misery.  I didn't want to do either, of course, but I had to choose.

And the worst option for me was the best thing for the chipmunk.

Now, if I were a farmer or a rancher, this decision would have been very simple.  People who live and work with animals tend to have a very realistic vision of life and death, and they know that sometimes death is absolutely necessary.  But I haven't lived with animals my whole life--in fact, I've had very few pets.  So I was out there alone on the road with a small animal that needed me to make a decision, one that I never before had had to make.  And while I try my hardest to respect all life and let living creatures be, I knew in my heart that the only thing to do was to kill the chipmunk.  So I did, in the way that I thought would be the least painful to the animal that already was in a lot of pain (I won't go into the details).

As I ran away, I started to think of how suddenly the need to make a choice had come upon me, and how often such things happen.  If we find out that a friend is doing something illegal, do we tell his or her family, or the police?  If we know that a spouse has stolen from his or her workplace, do we report it?  Life is full of decisions that come upon us because of someone else's actions or inaction, and we have to be able to make those decisions that will allow us to live with clear consciences, if we're to continue to be the people we're meant to be.

Not all of the decisions are easy, especially when both of the options available to us are unpleasant.  I could have asked someone driving by to run over the animal, but I know that if I had, I would have passed on a responsibility that I knew was mine, and mine alone.  While I found the experience of killing a poor little animal to be extremely unpleasant, I knew all the time that I was doing something kind, not harmful, and that it was the best of all possible choices. Running away (literally) from the dilemma would have left me with a great deal of regret, knowing that I had left it there to suffer for who knows how long.

Now I kind of wonder if the chipmunk is going to visit me in a nightmare, but I don't think it will.  I believe its suffering ended long before it would have otherwise, and I'm pretty sure that I did the right thing.  The hardest choices usually aren't as clear-cut as this one was, and if the choice involves other people, they often will try to make you live to regret doing the right thing.  But if your conscience is clear, you can stand strong in the face of all criticism, knowing that you've done what you know to be right.

The hardest choices so often come upon us out of the blue, as the result of no actions of our own.  All of a sudden we find ourselves having to decide between two or three alternatives, all of which are unpleasant.  But which choice is the highest choice?  Which choice will bring the most legitimate benefits to the most people?  Which choice truly is right?  Your mind can rationalize all it wants, but your heart and spirit will tell you the truth.  Listen to the truth, and live by it.  The choices have to be made, one way or another.

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