During my final two years at Harding University, I lived in a dilapidated house with eight guys on the edge of campus in Searcy, Arkansas. Rector House stood on North Grand Street and has since been demolished, but in the spring of 1981, it still stood…barely…just months from institutional progress in the form of a new cafeteria on the site we now occupied. When we discovered the plans to raze the sagging white clapboard sided house, we decided to accelerate the demise of our home. Ralph Rowand was training for intramural shot put and had a 16 lb. shot in his room. The hollow core mahogany doors made targets too tempting to pass up so, I told Ralph he wasn’t man enough to put the shot through a door. Grabbing the shot, he crouched, burst upward and hurled it across the room as we watched it disappear through the bottom half of the door, a clean round gaping hole worthy of a cannon shot. Ralph spies my golf clubs and challenges me, “Bet you can’t hit a ball through the wall.” Challenging my machismo via golf was too much to resist so I drew my Tommy Armour 3 wood and tossed a Titleist down on the dining room carpet. Eyeing the wall that hid Alan Adam’s bedroom on the other side, I rotated and spun mightily into the ball sending it cleanly through the sheetrock. Garnering a pretty good lie on the other side in Alan’s bedroom, I played it out into Rick Carpenter’s open chest of drawers. I’m fortunate the screaming ball missed hitting a stud or I might have imprinted “Titleist” on my forehead…but we didn’t think about things like that or if we did, we just took a chance. Taking chances…something we strangely do more often when we are young. The irony is we become more cautious and subdued as we age…and young folk are wilder, thrill seekers, more willing to risk, having much more to lose with life stories still being written. Logically, we should become more and more daring as we age because we have already lived full, well-rounded lives and should be ready to meet our Maker if we step back off a cliff ledge at 90 years old.
Many of my risk taking experiences happened while participating in extreme sports before extreme sports were invented as opportunity bred with vacuous collegiate boredom. Time and space gave birth to youthful stupidity. So at places called Sugar Loaf, Red Bluff and Bluff Hole we incubated future arthritic joint conditions and assured our place on the medical agenda of future orthopedic surgeons. My best friend Rick Carpenter’s shoulder surgery later in life was created by an event called downhillbilly skiing. One crisp autumn day we let a redneck from Georgia take us skiing sans snow. We donned multiple winter coats along with several pairs of jeans and we stood atop Red Bluff peering down through the leaves to the creek bed below, fearless, stupid and undaunted, the wind in our faces, a triple espresso jolt of adrenaline coursing through our veins. From the top of the bluff to the stream at the bottom is a 300 foot vertical descent and 600 foot horizontal run so about 45 degrees decline. Our hillbilly guide tells us to take off down the hill running helter skelter and don’t slow down, just kind of retard your speed by bouncing off saplings and catching them with your arm or shoulder. So we go flying down this hillside and Rick catches one sapling hard and fast and it spins him out. Rick’s had hip replacement and a couple shoulder surgeries…and it all started downhillbilly skiing in Arkansas.
Another buddy of mine from Harding University who lived in Rector House, Randy Jackson, once told me, “Life is not worth living unless there is a little fear of dying.” That was Randy’s answer to my inquiry, “Why do you repel off sheer rock cliffs and enjoy whitewater rafting?”
It’s my opinion that those who tip to the extremes on the risk continuum, risk averse or risk seeking, are the most unhappy. Those who take chances to the point of death as seeking to fill some void, and on the other end, those milquetoast tentative souls so risk-averse that one would never enjoy spending any time with them because they are always worried about what might happen if…and so my admonition to you is to drink deeply from the gushing well water of life somewhere on the continuum of risk, just not to the hot and cold extremes of taking stupid chances…or wearing a seatbelt while watching tv in your easy chair. So, do great things with your talents. Take chances when it’s appropriate. Astound those who witness your work. Love till it hurts. Take some chances…but…like Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to tell his cops before they started their beat on the television show, Hill Street Blues, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
Strikingly, risk-taking is exactly the image we see expressed to readers of a supposedly conservative and staid book, the Bible. God exhorts us to expend our resources & take chances…to die poor as it were…and in the process, we will not die…but live eternally rich. Matthew 25:29 “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.”
Annie Dillard in her book, The Writing Life, expresses the same idea about writing. “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book… give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
So that’s why I did all those dumb things in my youth. It all makes sense now.
Oh well, so from a middle age guy who knows better now, go crazy, have some fun, take a chance or two…but hey, let’s be careful out there!