Who’s packing our parachute? Do we care?

There’s a story out there about an American who¹s name is Charles Plumb. During the Vietnam War in the late 60’s, early 70’s, he was a fighter pilot. He flew from an aircraft carrier. He flew 75 missions before he was shot down, captured and interred in a Communist Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Vietnam. He spent several years in that camp before he was released and found his way back to the United States.

Returning “home” he became a bit of a hero. Interviewed by media, he soon became a favourite on the talk show circuit. He focussed his remarks on the internal fortitude that let him focus on freedom and survive his time as a prisoner of war. He moved to the speaking circuit where he was called on (and paid) to give motivational talks on strength of character, divine focus, etc.

One evening, after a particularly successful talk to a large group, Charles and a few of the organizers of the event were dining out in a nearby restaurant. The conversation moved back and forth from business to politics to strengths of character.

Quietly, on the sidelines, a man approached Charles Plumb. Plumb felt” his presence and turned to give him attention.

“You’re Charles Plumb, aren’t you?” the man exclaimed. Plumb nodded.

“You were a pilot during the Vietnam War!” Plumb nodded again, enjoying the notoriety.

“You fought 75 missions; you were shot down!” Plumb could feel himself puffing up with self importance, and he was almost haughty as he looked up at the man. Plumb had remained seated during all this.

“I have wanted to meet you forever,” the man said.

“I packed your parachute.”

“I guess it worked.”

Plumb tells the story of his quickened humility, of how many times on the aircraft carrier he had passed by this man, ignoring him because he was a “lowly” sailor while Plumb was a fighter pilot. Yet, each time this sailor sat in the bowels of the ship, folding shrouds of silk, he held the life of another human being in his hands. Plumb mused about how often in his life he had ignored the people who pack his parachute.

I wonder how many of us are like Charles Plumb, not only unaware of those daily, minutiae of supportive acts, but ungrateful as well.

What strength, what energy, what goodness we could inspire in our world if we did two things… stop and look at that ordinary, taken-for-granted person whose support carries us forward, and…

say thanks.