This story is a work of original fiction combining several personal real experiences. Please do not copy this work without express permission. Thank you.

A group of students were preparing for an oral examination on Ethics. The students were told that a guest lecturer would give the exam. The exam would be an open group experience. Finally, there were told, that no one should expect to pass the examination. The students were none-the-less alarmed and discussed this while waiting for the lecturer. It was the typical group of students… The popular one, the loud one, and of course… the quiet one who almost never spoke.

The lecturer arrived; a very aged man who was dressed darkly yet professionally. He moved with a grim determination and each step landed with the sound of a muted thunderclap. He exuded an aura of wisdom that conjured immediate respect. He removed his overcoat and folded it into thirds with a swift and practiced motion and then placed it onto the table that the class was gathered at. He turned to the oaken double doors to the lecture room and closed and then latched the giant doors. With the exception of one small window that let in nearly no light during the night class; the only light in the room was a small hanging light over the table.

He sat quietly at the circular table with the handful of advanced students and peered at each one. One could imagine that if they were to have used a stopwatch, the lecturer spent the exact same amount of time fixing his gaze on each student. Each student pondered during the gaze if they were being stared at or if they were being stared into.

From the moment he entered the room… no one had uttered a sound. Even the loud one was paralysed in the moment. He sat there for an eternity that no one measured. If felt like the room itself had detached from the universe while everyone inside was still very much in the moment. Finally, the old man broke the silence.

“You are in a bank. The day is unimpressively like any other. A man such as myself walks up to you. He aims a previously concealed revolver at you and says, ‘Don’t speak. Don’t move. Your time may be at hand.’

The loud one and the comedienne in the group began to scoff and chuckle. This was immediately curtailed when life imitated art. “You fail to understand the nature of this test.” He aimed a previously concealed revolver and said, “Your time is at hand.” The group of students no long found humour at his story and let him continue.

“In a loud voice in the middle of the bank with his gun still *pointed* at you, he pronounces, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have control of this bank. The lines have been cut and the alarms have been silenced. We’re not here for your money or your valuables. Though, the one valuable thing we will take tonight is a soul, which each and every one of you should consider more valuable than any other possession you have. It is in your best interests not to panic and to follow every thing I tell you.

One man felt valor was the better form of digression and headed for the door. The shower of gunfire from all directions verified that the man was accurate in his warning that they controlled the bank. He looks at you and continues, ‘Now that you understand your situation you will follow my directions to the letter without question.’ You acquiesce to follow his directions.

He has you gather everyone in the bank into a group. The group is a perfect representation of your world. There are business people, college students, haggard parents running errands before their children return home from school, there is even a nun and a young child. This latter fact made the stoic man with the gun nearly smile. ‘Are you ready for the most important moment of your life?’

He directs you to bring the nun and the child forward. The nun is assuredly quite aged and has easily been on this path longer than you have been alive if not some multiple of times. She is concerned at the situation but seems to be somewhat at peace. In ironic contrast, the child looks to be about seven or eight. The child shines of innocence and is completely unaware of the situation but has a thirst of interest about the adventure unfolding around him.

‘You will now take this gun and kill one of these two people dead. If you turn the gun on me, it will not fire. However if you do so, my men will kill everyone here except you. The gun will not fire if you turn it on yourself. If you do, the same penance will result. You have 15 minutes to decide. At the end of 15 minutes if you haven’t made a decision, the same fate will befall you.’

‘But… why me?’ you ask in the hope of some clarity. ‘Sometimes there are no answers. This is one of those times where the only one with an answer is you for your situation.'”

He sat stoically and quietly for a moment. One of the students audibly sniffed as if to hold back a tear. He once again eyed each student as he had before. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You have 15 minutes… how do YOU decide?” The students shared a collective gasp of confusion and horror.”

After about a minute, the Lecturer’s tone and mood changed drastically. “So, let me tell you how I answered this when I was in school. By the way, I added the gun a few years ago for effect. I find it really helps set the mood.” He crooked a wicked smile that was at once relieving and nearly creepy for a man who’d previously shown no emotions at all. Most of the tension in the class seemed to release. Several students exhaled. The loud one laughed a boisterous, self-reassuring laugh that wasn’t completely believable. In the corner the quiet one still looked frozen in the moment of the exam.

“When I was asked this, the setting was much less informal. We were having a discussion group at the Priest’s house and simply chatting about ethics. The room wasn’t nearly as effective to set the situation so we didn’t take it quite as seriously. When it came to me, I blurted out, ‘Well, obviously the nun.’ My priest raised an eyebrow and asked why. I commented that she’d lived a long life, has made her peace with God and between them she’d be blessed and part of God’s will.”

The class nodded. Most of the class nodded, that is, with the exception of the quiet one in the corner who still hadn’t relaxed. One-by-one the lecturer asked the students what they thought and quickly each acquiesced that the Nun was the correct decision. There was no doubt in their minds. Finally, the lecturer turned on the quiet one and said, “You’ve been very quiet throughout all of this.” “Nothing new about that,” the comedienne joked. Her boyfriend gave her an annoyed nudge. The lecturer continued, “Nun or child?”

With a strange mix of anger, impatience, and annoyance the quiet one responded, “You said 15 minutes. I have at least a good 10 minutes left to answer.” One of the students was about to gesture that it wasn’t real but the lecturer stopped him and said, “No, you’re absolutely right. We need to give this student the time to decide.” The remainder of the class sat surprised. Over the next few minutes, the tension in the other students began to relax and quiet discussions broke out. The quiet student continued to sit in very deep contemplation.

After 15 minutes the lecturer put back on his stoic nature of the storyteller and eyed the student bringing him back into the story, “Time’s up. What is your decision?” “The child” The class gasped. The answer was not merely obvious, but given by the lecturer. They started to angrily argue among themselves and cast derision on their fellow student. “Now, now. All of you… don’t get upset until you hear his full answer.” He turned to the lone dissenter and in a calm, almost loving voice asked, “Why? Why did you make that decision?”

The student took a long breath and started.

“From my point of view, the nun has in fact made her peace with God and in the general view of religion would sit in Heaven regardless. The child however does not understand the world beyond the innocence of youth. And I am not able to be the one to not merely destroy that child’s innocence but then live with the knowledge that this child’s entire future will be based on the lack of understanding of what has happened. Which penance would you rather be faced with? Looking to a Woman of God for counsel for the destruction of a child or looking to a child to try to explain why people might be murdered for no reason in front of them?”

“You can’t simply kill a child,” screamed one of the students who was also a parent that had put their own child into the image in their head. “No, he’s right,” shouted another, “You can’t kill a nun! My Great Aunt is a nun and the sweetest and most loving and most understand person I’ve ever met!” tears streamed down that student’s eyes. “You said the Nun, yourself!” another added angrily. “You should kill that one!” shouted another.

“STOP IT! I can’t simply kill anyone! Any life in any situation must never be simply extinguished lightly. Listen to all of you argue now! No one life is more valuable than another. But if I am forced to take a life… to kill… one otherwise be responsible for another death… That much I have to take on myself. I will spend the rest of my life hoping… No! Praying that I never have to make a decision like this. But I will tell you one thing… In that situation I will pray to my God every day hoping that he has guided me in my decision and will forgive me for the situation that karma, the universe, the devil or even God itself has put me in. Lastly, I pray that I will never have the ignorance to make a decision like this which flies in the face of every obvious teaching of God for someone else.”

Most of the class was angry. Again the lecturer held a hand up to silence the class. “I have given this exam to students of many religions for many years… many decades. Maybe one in 1000 even comes close to the right answer. For once I’ve heard the absolute right answer.” “So, it was the child?” asked one of the students. “Oh, certainly not.” the class was puzzled, confused, angry and in general overwrought with emotion. “No, there was no right answer.”

“But, the point to the exam… isn’t finding the right answer. It’s finding the right reason.” Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the lecturer who was looking intently down at the table. “How can anyone choose a murder they are forced to commit? Save one person, save a thousand people. Save one you love, save one you don’t know. But have to break the rules to do something noble, ignoble. To live with the repercussions of something you have no control over but breaks the holiest of laws you have. Religion… ethics… it’s a matter of being at peace with your relation with your highest view of the divine and it’s expectations of you. Ethics isn’t rote, it’s understanding the teachings and doing the best as a person as you can with what you have.”

The students began to look apologetically towards the one dissenting voice in the room. However, when they looked… there was no one there. Everyone but the lecturer was very confused. He stood up and with that he said, “Class dismissed.” He turned slowly to the large double doors, unlocked them, and opened them both to let the unnatural light of the institution wash back in and welcome them back to the world they lived in.

Part 2 will be published in the near future which will be my commentary on the story and my motivations for writing it and posting it.