“Help! Help!” she screams, flailing in the surf. I jolt awake and throw my tanning board aside, opting to tan passively for a bit. Through my binoculars I pick out the facts: Fifty yards out, water’s choppy, girl’s twenty and flails like a pro. Hurriedly, I run the calculations. The time for thinking ends. The time to save a life began minutes ago. I’m almost ready to put sun block on my nose when the unthinkable happens. “Excuse me,” a large man remarks, “but I think that girl is drowning out there. Aren’t you the lifeguard?”
I try to play the deaf card, but more people come over until a small mob surrounds my tower, all of them incredibly versed in sign language. My sunglasses are already off, so the blind card’s out the window. Time is running out. I put my hands up to my mouth and make a birdcall, the last ditch emergency signal. “You need to save her!” they shout, writing the plea on impossible-to-ignore dry erase boards.
“But wait a second,” observes the learned professor, heeding my call in the nick of time, “Is it really justifiable to demand that our friend the lifeguard risk his own life to save another?” The crowd murmurs in puzzlement as he continues. “One might argue that in making the call that a rescue is too dangerous, he preserves a life exactly as a lifeguard is expected to; the only difference is that the life is his own.” “This chair is really high up,” I add helpfully.
That night, the professor comes back around to check on me. “Thanks again for the help, Doc,” I say, handing him a beer. “I always get frazzled when they start shouting.” “Don’t worry about it,” he smiles back. “That’s what you pay me for.” Off in the distance we can hear the girl still flailing, but the tide has pulled her out far enough to take the edge off her noise. “That is some buoyancy she’s got there,” he notes, still nursing his lager. “Yeah,” I reply. “Maybe I should’ve saved her.”