It was one of those summer days when the sky is blue and the air is hot and humid. I was just 19 years old. It was a perfect day for young college guys to go for a swim and to watch girls. My two buddies and I, heeding this primitive drive, headed out to the local swimming hole. This was an old abandoned stone quarry that was hundreds of feet deep and had become a developed swimming hole complete with food stands and life guards. On this particular Saturday afternoon the place was packed.
We followed our usual routine whenever we landed at a beach: 1. We spread out our towels and laid in the sun until we began to broil from the heat and humidity; 2. We would jump into the very cold quarry water and swim for a while until we could no longer feel our extremities; 3. We lay on our towels and commenced the broiling process again. This was an Ohio summertime equivalent of a Swedish sauna except instead of broiling in a hut and throwing yourself into the snow, we were broiling on a beach surrounded by hundreds of young women. And therein lay the problem.
As we lay there roasting and sweating inevitably one of us would raise a head and point out some beautiful girl. The other two heads would pop up like a couple of squirrels: "Who? Where? Oh!" We would look longingly and approvingly and then all three heads would settle back in a lazy torpor. Eventually one or the other could no longer stand the heat and sweat and would sprint off to the water with the other two following close behind. The conversation was always the same: "It's not the heat. It's the humidity." And that was closely followed by: "Oh my God, look at that babe sitting over there." Dripping wet we would haul ourselves back to the towels for more sweating and unfulfilled longing.
At some point in this relentless schedule someone pointed out two girls sunbathing on a raft right out in the middle of the quarry. None of us could see them clearly but a few things were clear to us: 1. They were wearing bikinis; 2. They were alone; 3. It was a long swim out to that raft over the deepest part of the quarry. Occasionally a head would pop up and announce, "They're still out there." And the other two heads would follow, there would be a collective sigh then all three would fall back on the towel.
Laying there sweating and longing, longing and sweating, something snapped in my still developing prefrontal cortex and without saying a word I got up off the towel, sprinted to the edge of the quarry and dove in. I had a vague notion of swimming over the depths of the quarry. As I swam I noticed I was heading for the raft floating out in the middle of the quarry which held the two beauties. It was as if my body had hijacked my brain and in a surreal “in-body” experience I had become a passenger inside my own skin. And so my body swam, and swam, and swam carrying me across the deepest and coldest part of the quarry.
Somewhere out in the middle of the quarry something within realized where we were headed. I listened as my brain and my body quarreled.
Brain: “Where are we going?”
Body: “To the raft.”
Brain: No. Turn this tub around.”
Body: “No! I’ve had enough of the talking. Action now.”
And so this weird dialogue between an adolescent brain and an adolescent body continued. Arms moving steadily, legs kicking strongly, I was slowly closing in on the objective — THE RAFT! Now I was within feet of grasping the ladder and hauling myself aboard. My brain kicked in again with dire projections that the probability of a disaster involving rejection and ridicule was imminent and real. The “prisoner” was begging to abort the mission. But even as my undeveloped brain considered the myriad consequences, I watched in helpless horror as my body hauled me aboard and flopped me down right next to one of the girls. "The otter had landed!"
It was just me and two girls. I didn't know what to do or to say. So as I lay on the raft next to the very girls whom I had been ogling all afternoon, I said the only thing I could think of at the time, "Hi!" No one spoke. I lay there breathing heavily both from the exertion of the swim and my deep male-fear of girls. I lay there longer. Nothing. And suddenly, in the same way my body had climbed aboard of its own accord, my body just decided to debark. It wasn't graceful. No! I just rolled off the raft muttering, "Nice meeting you," and plopped back into the water. Like the otter that had only recently touched down, I rolled back into cold depths of the quarry. I swam back to shore where I dropped down onto my towel and closed my eyes.
As I lay there I felt I was being watched. Opening one eye I saw that my two good buddies were propped up on their towels just staring at me. "What happened out there? Who are those girls? What did they say?" The questions just kept coming and all I could say was, "I don't know." They did tell me that after I rolled off the raft in that uncool otter-like fashion both girls started laughing and watched me swim all the way to shore. I smiled for the first time since the ordeal had begun.
I felt good about the fact that I had taken the risk albeit as an unwilling prisoner. And even though I "didn't get the girl," I had at least made the effort.
It was shortly after that incident that I realized there may have been a life lesson here — I don't have to figure everything out before I jump in. There are times that after some consideration one just has to take a risk and see what happens. I started calling this: "risk therapy." My inner critic would so often shut down any effort I might like to try - that inner voice that would tell me that I wasn't good enough, smart enough, handsome enough, or creative enough. And this little voice would stop me in my tracks. Now I had experienced what it was like to just do something, to try something, to take a risk. It felt good.
Decades later I met up with my two buddies who to this day still remember the summer afternoon I jumped into the quarry and swam out to the raft. For them and for me it was as stunning and memorable as the moon landing that had occurred two years before.
Because of that moment of insight I have taken some risks that took me to Europe and to Africa and even to Lima, Ohio. I have missed a few opportunities too but the Voice that asks me to give it a try, to take a risk is still there: "Let's see what happens. It will be fun.” More often than not that Voice wins out over the voice of the inner critic which predicts doom, disaster and paralysis. There are times I can hear that inner Voice clearly say, "The otter has landed."