In the note, she was telling me thank you for the ways we had helped “pack her parachute” during her years at SHS. Inside the envelope, she had placed a cut-out piece of parachute cloth and a folded up copy of this excerpt by Charlie Plumb:
By Charlie Plumb
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, “do you keep track of all the parachutes you pack?”
“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 him and not even said “good morning”, “how are you”, or anything because, you see, 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 my parachute came along and he packed it for me.
So the philosophical question here is this: How’s your parachute packing coming along? Who looks to you for strength in times of need? And perhaps, more importantly, who are the special people in your life who provide you the encouragement you need when the chips are down? Perhaps it’s time right now to give those people a call and thank them for packing your chute.
The note from my student and Charlie Plumb’s story made me think about what a significant task you have in preparing others for their futures.
Our students will someday accomplish amazing things. And when they do, they may or may not understand all the people who played a part in packing their parachutes. But you will have played a part in their futures.
And when you think of your own mentors—those who have served you in obvious as well as obscure ways—remember them with thankfulness too.
Gratitude is a powerful action that helps keep you centered on the blessings all around you and the significance in what you do each day. As you start plans for your new school year, share the parachute story with your team members, and thank them for the often uncelebrated tasks they do that help so many others.
Now It’s Your Turn
Who is someone you may need to hear this story too? Pass it along and remind them what a positive influence they have been on you and others.