Who’s Packing Your Chute?
Olivia and I decided to make a detour on our way home from a recent college tour of UMASSAmherst. We pulled off the turnpike in Nashua, NH and headed for SkyVenture New Hampshire to experience the thrill of indoor skydiving. After a short training we donned a jumpsuit, helmet, goggles, and ear plugs and plunged into the air tunnel with winds over 100mph and the ability to float, spin, flip, or rise into the air 30 feet above the floor – it was remarkable.
It has been ages since I have skydived and now I am down to one year before Olivia is 18 and she drags me along for the real thing once again where I know I will find myself praying that someone did a good job packing the parachute. So much trust is put into the person who packs the chute – it must be one of the one main thoughts on every jumper’s mind, “I hope the chute opens!”
Charlie Plumb sure was glad his chute opened many years ago. Author and speaker Darren Hardy recently wrote about an interview he had with the well decorated U.S. Navy pilot (2 purple hearts, the Legion of Merit, the silver star, bronze star, and P.O.W. medal) in his blog www.darrenhardy.success.com.
Charlie flew 74 consecutive combat missions. However on his 75th mission his F4 Phantom fighter plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The plane exploded with 12,000 pounds of jet fuel, flipping the plane topsy-turvy, end-over-end, down toward the rice paddy below. Charlie was forced to eject. The only thing between him and imminent death was his parachute that he prayed would open…
Then finally he felt the opening shock of the parachute. During the 90 seconds of descent he was being shot at. “The audacity of this enemy,” Charlie said, they just knocked down my multimillion dollar airplane and now they are trying to kill the pilot!” Charlie made it down to the ground alive but was captured and spent 2,103 brutal days as a prisoner of war in a communist Vietnam prison camp.
Charlie Plum continues the story on his own website www.charlieplumb.com:
Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City. A man about two tables away kept looking at me. I didn’t recognize him. A few minutes into our meal he stood up and walked over to my table, looked down at me, pointed his finger in my face and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”
I looked up and I said, “Yes sir, I’m Captain Plumb.”
He said, “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war.”
I said, “How in the world did you know all that?” He replied, “Because, I packed your parachute.”
I was speechless. I staggered to my feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with just the proper words. He grabbed my hand, he pumped my arm and said, “I guess it worked.”
“Yes sir, indeed it did”, I said, “and I must tell you I’ve said a lot of prayers of thanks for your nimble fingers, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to express my gratitude in person.”
He said, “Were all the panels there?”
“Well sir, I must shoot straight with you,” I said, “of the eighteen panels that were supposed to be in that parachute, I had fifteen good ones. Three were torn, but it wasn’t your fault, it was mine. I jumped out of that jet fighter at a high rate of speed, close to the ground. That’s what tore the panels in the chute. It wasn’t the way you packed it.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said, “did you keep track of all the parachutes you packed?”
“No” he responded, “it’s enough gratification for me just to know that I’ve served.”
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I kept thinking about that man. I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on board the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen the man who would one day save my life and had not even said “good morning”, “how are you”, or anything because, you see, I was a jet jockey, a top gun racing around the sky at two times the speed of sound. Because I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor. How many hours did he spend on that long wooden table in the bowels of that ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those chutes? I could have cared less…until one day the need for my parachute came along and he had packed it for me.
How about each of us? How many times during the day, the course of a week, or a month does each of us pass the people who make our lives a little better, our jobs a little easier, our companies more successful, or our relationships more meaningful by carefully packing the chutes that bring success to our lives in one way or another and yet neglect to acknowledge them or thank them.
Who comes to mind as someone who regularly packs your chute? Who goes the extra mile with little fanfare, without seeking kudos, or recognition? Each of us each day has an opportunity to pack a chute for someone else while also having a chance to thank those who have packed ours.
Here at S&BSI we are amazed at how many examples of people doing just this that we see day in and day out. How about you? How about reaching out today and thanking someone who routinely makes a difference to you?