Born to be Mild

Bungee jumping? No thank you.

Roller coasters? Did that once, thanks. Once was once too often.

There's an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard, having learned about some consequences of a youthful misadventure, is regretting what he sees as his character flaw of recklessness. He is taken back through his life to explore how it might have been if he had taken fewer risks. It turns out he would have still ended up on the Enterprise, but as a low-ranking, undistinguished member of the crew. The risk-taking he had seen as a flaw was part of what gave him the ability to command a starship.

Unlike Picard, when I look back I don't regret my past reckless behavior. Quite the opposite. As a child, I believed that rules were meant to be obeyed, boundaries to be respected, and lines to be colored inside. Not only was I rarely the one suggesting anything adventurous, I was often that annoying kid warning the others that they were going to be in big trouble.

This was less about respect for the rules, actually, than it was about being chicken. I was simply born to be cautious. On the very few occasions I did let peer pressure lure me into wilder behavior, I usually lived to regret it.

Like the time at church camp when I was a teenager. Everyone else was doing it. (Well, as is usually the case, not quite everyone. Several people were doing it, including a boy that I wanted to impress.)

No, not drugs. Not smuggling pine cones into the counselors' beds. Not smoking cigarettes or necking out in the woods. A few kids very likely did those things, but they didn't tell me about it.

Someone had come up with the bright idea of putting a plank across a log to make an impromptu teeter-totter. The smaller person, aka the girl, would stand on one end. The larger person, aka the guy, would jump onto the other end, sending her into the air. Her hair and sometimes other parts of her anatomy would bounce in an appealing manner, and she would squeal and giggle and come down more or less on her feet.

It looked like fun—sort of. One of the boys doing the jumping was the one I was hoping to impress. I didn't want to look like the chicken I really was. Even though my sensible side tried to talk me out of it, I allowed myself to be coaxed onto the short end of the board.

He jumped onto the other end. I went flying. If my hair bounced in an appealing manner, I didn't have time to notice before I tumbled sideways and the ground came up and hit me.

My wrist hurt and started to swell. The camp director insisted on taking me to town for an X-Ray. Instead of playing my guitar at the campfire sing-along that night, I spent the evening in the emergency room finding out my wrist wasn't broken. They sent me back to camp with an ice pack, which soothed my bruised arm but didn't do much for my bruised pride.

In the years since, I've become far more adventurous in a lot of ways. I've learned to take a few more risks—at least of the emotional and social kind. But physical? No thanks. I still don't do carnival rides that fling you around like Raggedy Ann on speed. I don't stand at the edges of cliffs when I'm hiking in the woods. I take my vitamins, eat my vegetables, use sunscreen, keep my gas tank at least half full, and always fasten my seatbelt.

Maybe that explains why no one has ever put me in command of a starship.

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Categories: Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Born to be Mild

  1. Frank

    I put a comment in Facebook about the bungee jumping we witnessed in Bergen, Norway. Wish we had pictures of the daredevils. I am with you in trying to avoid any unnessesary risks. Plenty of pitfalls without looking for them. I have always maintained that some stunts take a complete ignorance of catastrophe.

  2. Ingrid

    But, see, maybe if you had taken more risks, you would have learned how to land on your feet! (Of course, having had two broken ankles and one broken foot, maybe I’m not the person to talk about perfect landings!)

  3. Kathleen

    Ingrid, thank you for making my case so well!
    And Frank, I agree on the “ignorance of catastrophe” part. Maybe I’m not really chicken–maybe it’s just that I have such a good imagination when it comes to anticipating consequences.

  4. Ginny

    When my brother[your father] were kids, the risks we took then make me shudder as I remember them. I, most of the time, could imagine the consequences of our actions, but my brother always assured me that there would absolutely be none….I always played follow the leader…him being the leader. We lived thru carrying out his ideas, so he must have been right part of the time. ginny

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