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Who Packed Your Parachute?

We can all name people who have been important over the years, whose influence has shaped our identity, but have you ever thought about the people who have literally saved your life? Charles Plumb has.

Plumb was a Navy pilot in Vietnam, and after 75 combat missions, a surface-to-air missile destroyed his plane. He parachuted safely but he was behind enemy lines when his feet touched the ground, and he spent the next six years as a POW. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.

One day, Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant when a man came up to him and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man and all the hours he had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, always holding in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t even know, and in his lectures, the Navy pilot always asks his audience to recognize people who have packed or continue to pack their parachute.

Not only would it be instructive to name the people who have packed our parachutes, but so too is the corollary: naming the people whose parachutes we might have packed. Some are obvious, like family members, but think of the many ways our various commitments touch people we may never meet.

I once had a street person thank me and the church for saving his life through the assistance we provided. I think he was being overly generous in his praise, but then, given his history and circumstances, even if we had not packed his entire parachute, we had certainly helped.

Packing parachutes is a pretty good metaphor for the work we do as people of faith. Sometimes literally, often figuratively, life and death hang in the balance, so what we do is important. Obviously, it needs to be done right, and many times it is done without fanfare or recognition.

It’s worth trying on for size: the next time somebody asks what you do in and through your faith community, tell them that you pack parachutes.