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Naomi Narrative: Don’t make me choose: Drinking games and Nazis

Published: November 14, 2008
Section: Opinions


<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Alex Doucette/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Alex Doucette/The Hoot

You, your friends, and a bottle of vodka are playing the popular drinking game “would you rather?” Would you rather be 4’1 or 7’9? Make out with a McDreamy or a McSteamy? Live in Antarctica or Death Valley?

As the Smirnoff disappears along with your ability to walk in a straight line, the questions grow more preposterous. Would you rather eat nothing but jello for the rest of your life, or have webbed feet? Never grow out of the pimple phase or never grow out of a training bra?

But one question that always seems to come up has more gravity, more implications than the rest. Would you rather be deaf or blind?

A popular answer I always heard was blind. Having impaired vision separates you from physical things, but having impaired hearing separates you from people. According to this train of thought, you’re weighing barriers between you and the rest of the world.

So much of communication relies on the auditory. Sign language can help, but it is by no means spoken by the mainstream. Your family might speak it, but the clerk at the corner store won’t, the taxi driver won’t, that hottie at your favorite coffeeshop won’t. Requiring patience of the public, of people who live in an instant gratification, on-demand kind of world, will not always work in your favor.

But being barred from the physical? Never seeing a velvety red rose, or the lush greens of a forest. Never seeing the toothy smile of a baby, or a bride’s exuberance on her wedding day. Without sight, you would never experience the transcendental, the sublime.

How can I choose? Which sense is more important to me? My brain starts to stutter, spasming out mundanities. I really like people watching. But I also like listening to my iPod. I like appreciating sunrises. But I also like heart to heart conversations with friends. AHHHH. My mind starts reeling.

Of course I don’t have to make a decision. No cruel surgeon is looming over me, threatening to take a butcher knife to my cochlea or cornea. No judge is legislating a biblical era ruling, enacting the punishment “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” It’s just me on my bed on a lazy Sunday morning, drumming up excitement and anxiety for a hypothetical. Waxing philosophical for my three readers out there, who will use this article to line their trashcans when they’re done reading it.

But indulge me for a minute. God willing, you’ll never have to make the decision. You’ll live to the ripe old age of 103, with your senses all intact. But humor the “what if?” question.

When I was too young for it, I discovered the novel Sophie’s Choice in our dusty bookshelves at home. When my friends were reading Sweet Valley High and other such chick lit, I was immersed in this disturbing book. With themes of abuse, universal suffering and the Holocaust, it was a grave and somber read for any 13 year old.

The title of William Styron’s book refers to the cataclysmic choice Sophie, a non-Jewish woman, is forced to make on her first night in Auschwitz. A cruel doctor forces her to play God, to decide which of her two children would be gassed that night. One would die within the hour and the other would have a chance of survival in the camp.

She pleas with the sadistic Nazi not to make her choose. Her pleas falling upon deaf ears, he threatens to murder them both. At that point she makes the choice. She sacrifices her baby girl, her 7-year-old Eva. Sophie never overcomes the guilt, and is lead down a self-destructive path of depression and eventual suicide.

Consider the notion of a “Sophie’s Choice.” A tragic decision between two unbearable options. Masquerading as a choice, it’s really an ultimatum.

I have trouble enough navigating a menu and choosing my entrée, picking out classes for the semester, deciding which movie to attend on a Saturday night. I can reach a 10 on the “frazzled scale” pretty quickly, just on a regular Wednesday afternoon.

I can’t choose between blind and deaf, vision and hearing. I can’t take on the mask of Mengele, affectionately known by camp inmates as the “Angel of Death.” But I also can’t suffer from analysis paralysis in making plans for my post-Brandeis life.

The decision of what to do on December 16, 17, 18 and every day after that looms large in my life.

Having been in the warm cocoon of Brandeis for 3 and a half years, I’m scared out what’s out there. I developed my trainer wings while abroad in Budapest, but am far from ready to fly solo.

In no way am I equating my life decisions with those on the grander scale. I know I’m small potatoes, my decisions are trivial, and that if I make mistakes they can easily be reversed. But knowing these questions of grander proportions are out there makes me feel a little safer. My fuckup potential is lower because my stakes are lower.

So I’m far from independent. Allow me my crutches and I’ll get there soon enough.

And if I fall along the way, I’ll just reroute down a different path. Requisite sentimental and melodramatic point made; I’ll see you next week for another dose of self-important wisdom.