After 74 successful combat missions in Vietnam, Charles Plumb, a US Navy jet pilot, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected from the jet and parachuted into enemy hands where he was captured and spent 2, 103 days in a small cell in a communist Vietnamese prison. After surviving such an ordeal, he went on to lecture and speak publicly about the lessons he learned from his experience.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man from another table came up and said “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk…and you were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.
Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t work, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. He kept wondering what the man had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat, bib in the back, and bellbottom trousers. He wondered how many times he might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or acknowledged him in any way. You see, Plumb was a fighter pilot and the man was just a sailor.
Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time, the fate of someone he didn’t know.
Often, Plum will ask his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?” Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through another day. He also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory – he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.
Sometimes, in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, to congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, to give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason. As you go through this week, this month, this year, recognize people who pack your parachutes.
I write this as my way of thanking you for your part in packing my parachute.
*Adapted from an anonymous source.