Recklessness is a virtue.
Patience is a virtue too, the two just need to be used at different times. Usually I’m really good at the whole patience thing. In fact, I’m a little too good. But I don’t know if being patient because you’re scared counts. Usually I’m patient until I can be patient no longer, and suddenly the only option is to be reckless. At least they are both virtues, whatever that means.
Tom wasn’t happy. I came into his dorm room expecting the jubilant guy I that had become such a close friend of mine, but what I found looked something like a derailed freight train.
I had come bearing good news. Dan, Tim, and I were about to head out for some “booning.” Embarassingly enough, that’s what we called it. It was late at night and all we could think about was launching water-balloons onto the innocent walkers that would unknowingly cross our sights. There’s a very short window of time with which you can launch water-balloons and not be a social outcast. A few years out of college and your pretty much done. But we were sophomores at Wheaton College, and the water-balloons and unsuspecting strollers flowed like milk and honey. If this wasn’t the booning promised land I don’t know what was. Usually Tom would die to deliver such a dastardly deed, but tonight he had other things on his mind, much loftier deeds to be done.
“Sup guys,” Tom eeked out, wiping a little sweat from his brow
“Boon time baby.” I replied
“Nice man.” A few moments of silence ensued.
“You game?” Tim asked.
“I got to much to do…”
“Like what?” asked Dan.
“Just ah, just trying to figure out how to handle some stuff.”
“You have that DTR with Suz-face yet?”
“Ha. No. Not yet. About to have a DTR with someone else.”
I inquired and he began to explain his situation. Tom had liked the same girl for five years. Even while he had dated other girls in high school, he secretly liked her. It was a girl named Erin from back home. She had been one of his best friends throughout all of high school. Of course, he dreamt of being something more than friends, but he never thought it could actually happen. He never opened up because he knew there was no way she could ever like him as more than a friend. As far as he could see, she was way out of his league anyway. Besides, they had been too close of friends for too long for anything to happen. If it hadn’t happened yet, it wasn’t going to happen. And even is it was possible, she went to a college in California. Wheaton is just outside of Chicago.
Meanwhile, Tom had been going on dates with a different girl, a girl at Wheaton named Suzy. Thinking there was no chance of dating Erin, why wouldn’t he? But he had found himself at a fork in the road. Another few days, and he was planning on making it official with Suzy. Dating this new girl meant saying goodbye to any hope of dating Erin. Never having talked to Erin about his feelings, he just wasn’t ready to move on. Erin still came first, and as much as he wanted to deny it and start a relationship with Suzy, I could see it all over his face. He would drop her for Erin in a heart beat.
So he was thinking about talking to Erin. He came up with a very simple plan that he had been toying with all week. He was going to call Erin that night and tell her how he felt. He was going to lay it on the line, because he knew that he couldn’t date Suzy until he was absolutely sure that Erin wasn’t even an option. I know it sounds fishy, getting ready to go out with your second choice, but Tom was attempting to move Suzy into first place with this conversation.
He just needed to get it off his chest. He knew Erin would tell him that she only wanted to be friends, effectively freeing him to date Wheaton girl with a clean conscience. Of course, he secretly hoped that someway, somehow, things would work out with Erin, but he know they wouldn’t. His hands were shaking anyway.
After giving our final words of encouragement, Daniel, Tim, and I went outside, armed with a sack of water-balloons and a launcher. We found a dark corner on the edge of the tennis courts up against a wooded area. It faced the long and unprotected sidewalk between Fischer dormitory and the rest of campus. People would be filtering in and out all night.
The sidewalk was about 100 yards away, which is no match for the raw power of the Captain Splash 3000, but makes actually hitting people dead on quite challenging. We spent an hour or so launching balloons at innocent groups of people walking to and from campus. We launched some balloons at a couple sitting alone in a field to our left, hit the campus safety car as it strolled by, and almost nailed a group of four guys before we realized they were carrying a giant flat screen TV and decided they were no longer a fair target. We had certainly wreaked a considerable amount of havoc and gotten a decent amount of people slightly wet, but we hadn’t fired a direct hit yet. It was getting really late, hardly anyone was walking by anymore. We only had four water-balloons left. We were just about ready to call it a night, to go to our bunks unsatisfied and cry in our dreams.
But time and chance were willing to give us one more try. Fischer’s glass double doors gracefully swung open and two dudes headed out towards campus. Where they were going and what they were doing at two in the morning I do not know, but it was probably more respectable than launching water-balloons. This is not to say launching water-balloon doesn’t deserve a certain amount of respect, given you’ve got respectable launching skills. We believed we had these skills. We were trying to prove it.
We locked onto the unsuspecting fellows; this was our last chance to nail someone with a water-balloon out of thin air. Tim and Daniel held the two handles out high while I loaded the balloon into the pouch and pulled back the right distance. There is a certain acquired touch to launching water-balloons accurately that only comes with practice and being young at heart. I held for a second and then released a line drive straight at the duo. The distance was solid but we missed left.
“Real mature!” the guy closest to us yelled out sarcastically. The figurative stuffiness with which he spoke was far too much too handle. I can’t even describe the staunchness of his voice. He seemed like one of those “mature” kids who are way too mature for their age, so mature that a truly mature gentlemen might consider it immature to be so mature at that age. Confused? I know, but so was I, and so was he. That is enough to say that this “mature” kid got under my skin, as they always do. At that point all I wanted was to mature a water-balloon all over his face. A dense explosion of water maturing on his head was just what I needed.
After scurrying forward fifteen yards or so the two guys began to slow down and walk again. I imagine this came from a deep sense of maturity. Running in public isn’t something mature kids do. Its impractical. Its shameful, and downright silly. If someone sees you running, what will they think? Will they think you’re running away from something? Will they think your stupid? And when they look at you, will you be dressed nicely enough? Running in public is almost as immature as launching water balloons. These are not my thoughts. And these were not my thoughts when I saw them stop running and begin walking as if no one was trying to hit with water balloons. My thoughts were gratitude and joy.
I loaded up another juicy one and yanked back the elastic cords. “PHAPHWOW!” The ballon went careening over the tennis court fences right at them. The launch felt good. It was pure. Nothing uneven about it. Nice angle, good speed. But to our surprise and dismay it was just a few yards long, splashing off the building wall they walked along. It didn’t really get them wet; but a few drops of water on his cashmere scarf, or even the thought of it, or even the notion of a surprise like that having happened to a guy like him, was intolerable. After all, it wasn’t penciled into his calender.
“OK! This is ABSURD!” He yelled authoritatively.
As you can imagine, such a response only deepened my desire to absurd a sphere of watery doom all over this kid’s attitude. We were rushing now. The two gents were beginning to move out of range. It seemed as though we would only have one shot left. Time and chance were not on our side anymore. Daniel and Tim quickly adjusted while I loaded up hail Mary number three. “PHAPHWOWOWOW!” This one was deep. It was a little right but looked decent, decent enough to hope that the wind would guide the bomb back to its target. But mother nature sat this one out. The balloon landed about ten feet to the right.
“NICE AIM GUYS! GREAT JOB! HA! HAHA! YOU GUYS ARE PROS!”
Even mature kids will trash talk from time to time. It’s just their acclaimed maturity that makes their trash talk so much more annoying than anyone else’s trash talk, and their cashmere scarfs, of course. They act as a filter through which the voice speaks in mature, scarf-like tones, muffling any inner youthfulness locked deep within, unknowingly exposing a shrill instability just barely audible to anyone not wearing a cashmere scarf. On a more practical level, they trash talked because they thought they were out of range. And they were. They were well out of range.
But much like Martin Luther King Junior we had a dream. We had one water balloon left and we were not ready to give up. I grabbed the balloon out of the bag and we darted out of our dark hiding place across the tennis courts. We quickly gained about thirty yards on the two kids without them knowing. Daniel and Tim posted up, arms held high to the sky. I shoved the orange balloon in the pouch and yanked back on the elastic as hard as I possibly could. The loaded cannon released as my elbow banged against the concrete tennis court. At that point I experienced something magical.
I lay on the ground as I watched a perfectly plump water-balloon get swiftly launched into the night. It was the embodiment of our desire, a flawlessly round collection of hydrogen, oxygen, and passion, wrapped in a think layer of latex. The thick elastic launcher created a rich, wafting sound as pure as any musical instrument in the world, powerfully guiding the balloon into flight. It reverberated over the tennis court and filled the air with a deep hush that quieted everything else—animals, trees, windows, light poles, all silently watching. The balloon hissed off into the darkness without hesitation or regret. The trajectory was perfect, high enough for a dip in the milky way, flying over campus with the grace and power of a shooting star. Most water balloons will shift and curve back and forth in the air because they are not perfectly round and because the wind plays an effect on them, but this one was completely set on its prize. It was slowly but surely heading straight towards its victim, hanging in the air as long as possible to bask in its moment of glory before self-sacrificing impact. The squishy ball of water sailed swiftly through the cool night air like a red hot needle through ice cream. Nothing could stop it and nothing would stop it; it was too beautiful to be stopped. The line was so flawless that I began to fear not hitting its target, rather than hoping that somehow it would. I doubted my vision as the balloon drew nearer. I swear that thing was homing in like a heat-seeking missile. The two guys now felt completely secure, well out of range, not expecting anything. But destiny saw this unlikely launch and grinned. It let our launch slide under its radar and into reality, even if the flight could not squeeze into our comprehension. I would argue that it was indeed the longest, straightest, sexiest water-balloon launch in history.
As the sphere finished its course slow motion turned to high speed. The ballon ran silently screaming in on the global face of maturity. It exploded right on the top of our home boy’s unsuspecting dome. It crashed down like the weight of a premature adulthood all over his personality, fighting and winning a battle for the sake of all that is youth. It cascaded upon his head like a rushing waterfall and exploded like a hand grenade. BOOM KERSPLASH! The tears of an early departure from childhood burst forth and enveloped this gentleman in a whirlwind of spontaneous enlightenment. The package of cold water was a force for reconciliation, bringing balance and order to maturity, taunting, pride and the like, justly favoring adventure and youth amidst our collegiate environment. Water was happy to take part in the venture. Having sustained life on earth for millenia, it found joy in restoring some youth to an old young man
Our cries of joy and wild laughter could be heard across campus as the two recipients ran away, most likely crying, not for pain, but defeat. It was a glorious moment indeed. The longest and most difficult shot of the night had prevailed. Our last balloon came through in the clutch. It was all or nothing and all took the victory. I still don’t know who the victim was, maybe because after such a shameful incident he no longer shows his face in public and doesn’t show up for yearbook photos. The hands of time have forever framed and mounted that launch in Youth’s hall of fame.
We floated back to the dorm on good old cloud number nine, but when we got there something far greater had happened. Hearing a commotion, we walked into Tom’s room to see what was going on. There were already ten of our friends crammed into the tiny dorm room celebrating something, we just didn’t know exactly what. But then I looked at Tom, and he was somewhere in the neighborhood of cloud eighty-five. He looked me in the eye and I knew exactly what had happened.
He called up Erin nervously with a sloppy set of notes to follow. He explained the feelings he had for the last five years and his current situation. He didn’t stop for a breath. Erin was giggling the whole time and Tom wondered why, but figured it had something to do with his thinking he could try in the first place. In reaction he only talked faster and said less. But when he finally stopped explaining himself he found out why she was laughing. She had dreamed of them being together for even longer.
Tom was blown away, absolutely shocked. All these years he never took the chance because he thought she was out of his league. Now that he finally did he found that she was in the same boat the whole time. They both wanted it but thought it could never happen. Now that someone took the long shot, things began to happen like they were meant to. The story they always wanted was finally unfolding.
We celebrated the night away with Tom and our other friends. It was crazy and exciting and beautiful. Tom was hugging everyone and each time someone new came into the room he didn’t fail to retell the story with the same enthusiasm. I think we all came away from the night a little bit dumbfounded and a little bit encouraged. Tom certainly did.
Sometimes I get to a spot in life where all I’ve got to hang on to is a long shot. I don’t wanna take it because I’m afraid it won’t work out, but as long as I know there is even the slightest chance of success, I can’t let go. The long-shot is the only shot I have, and for some reason nothing else fully satisfies until it has been taken.
The problem is that fear wears many masks. One happens to be a virtue. Fear creeps in and disguises itself as something much more noble, something much easier. It tells us to wait, and wait, and wait, and calls itself patience.
And patience is good, don’t get me wrong. But at times it befriends fear. At times fear hires patience to use innocent qualities to do its dirty work. Patience can keep you comfortable and safe. Patience can avoid risk. Patience can turn men to cowards.
The problem is that failure hurts all over immediately, and we don’t like that. We’d rather wait until the opportunity is gone so that we never have to make a move. We’d rather know that we could have than see what would happen if we did. Wait long enough and just like the opportunity, the risk will disappear.
We often don’t realize that while missed opportunities are at first less painful, they continue to chafe until we can forget about them. Forgetting isn’t always easy, and even when it is, the opportunity that we forgot about has still affected the course of our lives. Its not that we should never be patient, at times patience means risking for something good. But sometimes the long shot is the only shot you’ve got at the story you want to live, and you can’t seem write a different story until you’ve tried that one.
Of course it might not work out, otherwise it would be a short-shot. But, then again, maybe it will, and there’s no telling whether the shot will ever get any shorter. When patience is no longer doing any good, just remember that recklessness is a virtue too.