BY ALEXIS EILS
Several decades after the Vietnam War ended, a man named Charles Plumb and his wife were at a restaurant when a man approached their table and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”
Plumb responded, “Yes, sir.”
The man continued, “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.”
Plumb asked, “How in the world did you know all that?”
The man replied, “Because I packed your parachute.”
Plumb was shocked. This was a man who he had probably passed by daily without even noticing. Yet this nameless, faceless sailor had packed the parachute that had saved Plumb’s life. “I guess it worked,” the man said.
Beaming, Plumb replied, “It certainly did.”
How many people in our lives have packed our parachutes without us even knowing it? And what do we do once we’ve met that unnamed sailor, once we’ve begun to realize how our parachutes have been packed? We go right back out and pack others’. We look at those around us, those we find easy to love and those we find difficult to even like, and we try to spread the love that we’ve been granted. As God loved us, so we must love one another (Jn 13:34). As His disciples, we pay it forward.
A year ago, I took a class with someone I’d known in high school. I had never considered him a close friend: in all honesty, I found him annoying. After class he would usually rush off to the library or a meeting, which I found to be a relief. But one day, he didn’t have any prior engagements after class, so he asked if he could walk home with me. As we were nearing the dorms, the conversation turned serious. He began discussing his sister and how her recent decision to drop out of college had caused a major schism in the family. When we reached the entrance to my building, he seemed to pause, aware that we’d reached my destination but not quite ready to stop talking.
In the back of my mind, I really just wanted to go up to my room and relax after a busy week, but instead, something pushed me to ask him if he wanted to go somewhere to talk some more. We ended up talking on a bench outside of his building for almost an hour. He talked; I mostly listened. When he’d said everything he wanted to say, we exchanged good-byes and went our separate ways. I didn’t think much of it, but later that night he sent me a message. He wrote, “It meant more to me than you know.” I realized that God had placed me in that situation for a reason, that I had packed his parachute and hadn’t even been aware of doing it. Situations like that remind me that I don’t necessarily have to know what I’m doing to make a difference – I just have to be open to who or what God places in front of me.
We may not always know what packing another’s parachute looks like. We may never know if we’ve made a difference – we may not even make a difference at all. But the goal is not to serve as some extravagant extension of salvation or to gain recognition of our efforts. The goal, rather, is to love. Because whether or not the parachute I pack saves a life, it was sewn from the same fabric that saved mine.