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Charles Plumb was a United States navy pilot who flew 75 successful missions before he was shot down.
He ejected and parachuted into enemy territory, where he was captured and spent six years in prison.
Many years later, having survived, he was out to dinner when approached by a man who recognised him. Startled, he asked this man how he knew him, and the man responded, I was the one who packed your parachute all those years ago.
Later that night, Charles reflected on this encounter and was shocked to realise he’d never given thought to the sailor who packed his parachute; after all, he was an impressive fighter pilot and this man was just a sailor.
At once, a feeling of gratitude washed over him.
Who packs your parachute?
I have thought about this a lot today, and if I’m honest, it has brought up some emotions. I look around me and think about all the wonderful souls in my life and those who once shared my life and I realise with overwhelming gratitude, there are many, and have been many, who have at one time or another packed my parachute. They have been my sailors.
I wasn’t always as independent, resilient, and courageous as I am now. I sometimes still struggle to appreciate how far I have come on my journey. To acknowledge my strengths and say them out loud. To understand that all scrapes, cuts, bruises, and broken bones of life— whether caused by me or others—have, in fact, been the springboard to my growth.
I am capable of packing my own parachute these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I struggle to pack it as well as it should be packed, or with as much love and care as it should be packed with.
Some days, I rely on those in my life to help me pack my parachute. And some days, those in my tribe need to gather that parachute laying messily on the ground, neatly and lovingly scoop it up, and gently with all their compassion help me repack my parachute.
I have also spent many occasions packing another’s parachute. Sometimes, in my desire to fix things, I have not allowed them to pack their own. I never meant for them to feel they were not capable of packing their own parachute, but I acknowledge this is how they may have perceived it.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs help at times because sometimes packing your own parachute is just too hard. Sometimes you’re lying, tangled, and you cannot untangle yourself, no matter how much you try.
We have physical parachutes. Emotional parachutes. Mental parachutes and spiritual parachutes. Perhaps we have people in our life who support all of these, or maybe just one part. Whoever helps us pack our parachute, or the parts of our parachute that may be blowing aimlessly in the wind, or floundering in a sea of knots, deserves our utmost gratitude.
Some taught me how to pack my parachute. Some assisted me to repack my parachute when it was not quite packed correctly. And some dismantled my neatly packed parachute—pulling it apart; putting it back together; pulling it apart; putting some of it back together, until finally, they left my parachute strewn, twisted, muddied on the ground in need of desperate repair.
Lucky for me, I was able to sit in my parachute, mending it, little by little. Bit by bit. My people stepped in and started to support me in fixing my parachute because they knew that when my parachute was repaired and packed safely and with love and care, I would once again be able to fly.
Charles Plumb all those years ago was overcome with gratitude for the sailor who, with care and precision, packed his parachute that day. The parachute that enables him to land safely on the ground after his fighter jet was shot down that fateful day.
My story and your story probably aren’t quite as literal when it comes to the parachute, but for me at least, it’s just as important.
When I am in the blessed and fortunate position to help another pack their parachute, I am honoured and humbled that they have the trust and faith in me to rely upon. I see it as a privilege and I will use all the tools, care, and knowledge I have to help them with their parachute.
When my parachute has been pulled or fallen out of its pack and I’m struggling to repack it, I know there are people who will step in and help me do that. Those people are in all our lives and we should always let them know they are valued.
Sometimes we take a leap of faith and release our parachute, and for a time, we are soaring. We feel alive; we feel invigorated; we see all the wonder and beauty of the world. We embrace the unknown and our mind, body, and spirit feel everything. This is the part of life we live for.
The other part of life is when our parachute smothers us and we can no longer see. We are sailing through the air in darkness. Some part of us is still exhilarated and another part of us is terrified because we know we can’t stay in the air forever and at some point, we are going to hit the ground with a painful thud.
We may lie lost on the ground for a while. We may be hurt, a little broken, and unsure of what comes next. And it’s these life moments, these times, that our ground crew, our sailors step in and help us gather the mess of our parachute and start to repack it. It’s in these moments I realise that even though I’m capable of packing my own parachute, I actually don’t have to do it alone, and what a wonderful gift that is.
Blessed are those who are willing to muscle up, get their hands dirty, and support another in packing their parachute. And blessed are those who are vulnerable enough to admit they are having trouble packing their parachute alone.
Life is about ensuring everyone has a safely packed parachute, regardless of who they are, because everyone deserves the chance to fly.