I first became aware of a moral dilemma at age 10 when I tumbled into a den churning with a mass of moral dilemmas.
The story begins with my bicycle, a one-speed wonder, sturdy as a dump truck and felt as heavy as one when I pushed it up a hill too steep to ride. My two younger brothers and I with our bikes explored the woods and fields beyond town. The only hitch — no matter where we went, we had to be home for lunch at noon. Mom devised a hard-hearted punishment if we were late — we were sentenced to stay in the yard the rest of the afternoon. Talk about controlling how far we roamed.
One day, fellow kid bike riders reported that at a farm a man offered to let kids ride horses for 25 cents for 15 minutes. My brothers and I raced home and scooped up a handful of quarters.
At the barn, the man showed us how to lead a horse to the pole fence, climb up and slide onto the horse bareback, grab the reins and head down a lane to a logged-over pasture.
In the pasture, tree stumps wider than a garbage can lid and 3 feet tall dotted the land.
I didn’t know the horses knew tricks until my horse galloped around a stump, braked and sent me flying. Fortunately I didn’t land on the sharp edge of a tree stump, but on a soft cushion of poison oak. I caught my horse, led him to a stump so I could re-mount. All of us horse riders spent more time catching horses and climbing on stumps to get back on the horses than we did riding.
At lunch, I casually mentioned to my mom our activity — riding horses. I think she visualized county fair pony rides where ponies walked in circles tethered to the ride.
The next day my brothers and I headed back to the horse farm. We splurged for the half-hour ride.
After a bruise-induced morning, I checked my watch. Just enough time to ride back to the barn, retrieve our bikes and pedal furiously toward home. Back at the barn, one brother and I waited for our younger brother join us.
Coming down the lane, younger brother’s horse broke into a gallop and took a sharp turn, which send him flying. He ended up in a heap with the wind knocked out of him.
It was at this point that moral dilemma kicked in.
To be home on time, my other brother and I needed to leave immediately and pedal like crazy. We’d be safe from the consequences of being late. The brother still in a heap could come later. If we recounted to Mom how we left the other boy, we could be grounded longer than an afternoon.
Or we could wait until younger brother was steady enough to ride a bike and help him along. Showing brotherly love meant being late. Perhaps Mom would praise our good judgement and skip a punishment. Probably not.
A lose-lose situation.
All three of us arrived late for lunch. We spent the afternoon in the back yard weeding. That was the last of the 25-cent horse riding.
The moral dilemma — the first of many.