Many people believe they don’t have what it takes to make a difference in the world. They deem only people like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and the like, are capable of making a difference. The truth is, every one of us is put in this world in our own unique way. It need not be anything extraordinary. It just needs to be something you do with the intention of “doing good.”
Charlie flew 74 consecutive successful 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 some 12,000 pounds of jet fuel, flipping the plane topsy-turvy, end-over-end, down toward a rice paddy below. Charlie was forced to eject. The only thing between him and imminent death was his parachute which he prayed would open…finally he felt the shock of the opening canopy. During the 90 seconds of descent he was being shot at. “The audacity of this enemy,” Charlie said, “they just knocked down my multi-million-dollar airplane and now they’re trying to kill the pilot!” Charlie made it down to the ground alive, but was then captured and spent 2,103 brutal days as a prisoner of war in a communist Vietnamese prison camp.
Many years after being repatriated, Charlie, his wife, and another couple were sitting in a little restaurant in Kansas City together before going to a theater show that night. Two tables over was a guy who kept looking at him. Charlie would look back but didn’t recognize the stranger. Repeatedly he kept catching this guy staring at him. Finally the guy stood up and walked over to Charlie’s table and pointed at him with a sort of stern look on his face and he said, “You’re Captain Plumb.” Charlie looked up at him and said, “Yes, I am Captain Plumb.” The guy said, “You’re that guy. You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You’re a fighter pilot, part of that ‘Top Gun’ outfit. You launched from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, you parachuted into enemy territory and you spent six years as a prisoner of war.”
Somewhat dumbfounded Charlie looked up at the guy and asked, “How in the world did you know all that?” The man chuckled, smiled and said, “Because I packed your parachute.”
Charlie was speechless. The man grabbed Charlie’s hand and pumped his arm and said, “I guess it worked” and walked off.
Charlie laid awake that night thinking about all the times he had walked through the long narrow room with the tables, where the men packed the parachutes below sea level on the aircraft carrier. How many times he must have walked past this man without even saying “hi,” “good morning,” “good job,” or “I appreciate what you do.”
“How many times did I pass the man whose job would eventually save my life… because I was a jet jockey, a Top Gun racing around the sky at twice the speed of sound because I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”
Think about this for yourself. How many times in life do you pass the people who help you out the most? The people who come out the most? The people who come out of the far corners of your life just when you need them the most and pack your parachutes for you? The people who go the extra mile, the people who don’t look for the kudos or accolades or the achievement medal or even the bonus check. The folks who are just out there packing parachutes?
So I ask you: “Who’s packing your parachute?” Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. It’s important to point out that Plumb 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, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or do something nice for no reason.
The lives you touch are far reaching and we usually never know how far and how different things would be without each of us. As you go through this week, this month, this year, recognize the people who pack your parachute; and remember that we may never be in the situation of Charlie Plumb and need a parachute to save our lives, but the parachute we pack may be just as important in the life of someone we may not even know!
This story is paraphrased from the real life experiences of Captain Charlie Plumb. He is a renowned public speaker and you can read an excerpt of this story or purchase his book at his website www.charlieplumb.com.
Michael is a sixth generation funeral director and is president of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service.