Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Is Packing Your Parachute?

A stone-age hunter tracked a set of paw prints through the grasslands. He eventually came upon the largest and most ferocious looking saber-toothed tiger he had ever seen. The animal was recently killed and a small man stood beside it.

Amazed, he asked: "Did you kill that?"


"How could a little guy like you put down a huge beast like that?"

"I killed it with my club," the man replied.

“Wow!” the astonished hunter exclaimed. "How big is your club?"

The man thought for a moment. "I guess there are about 30 of us."

We may not be hunting saber-toothed tiger, but we all need some help to get through this life. We need people who are ready to assist. People who will encourage, teach, challenge, support and watch out for us. One of the best metaphors I know for such people comes from Charlie Plumb, a public speaker and retired naval officer.

After Plumb graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, he flew jets in Vietnam. He was shot down by a surface-to-air missile after 75 combat missions. He ejected and parachuted into the jungle. The Vietcong captured him and held him prisoner for six years in North Vietnam. Today, Plumb lectures on lessons learned from that experience.

He likes to tell the story of a day when he and his wife were sitting in a restaurant and a man at another table approached them. “You’re Plumb!” the man said. “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 the former pilot.

“I packed your parachute!” he said. Plumb gasped in surprise. The man pumped his hand and continued, “I guess it worked!”

Plumb assured him it did. “If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The pilot couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the stranger. He wondered how many times he might have seen him on the ship and not spoken because he was a fighter pilot and the man who packed his chute was “just a sailor.” He thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the carrier, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

When Plumb lectures, he often asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?” He is asking: who is watching out for you? Can you identify the people who have packed your parachute over the years and those who are packing it today?

I think of a music teacher who taught me that it was not enough for me to learn the instrument. I must also have fun with it. Ever since, music has been a source of supreme joy for me.

I think of a school teacher who, after listening to a reading of a short story I performed before the class, described the impact of that story on him. That day I fell in love with storytelling and understood the important role stories can play in a person’s life.

I think of a young woman who believed in me and instilled within me a life-long belief in myself.

I can think of many people who have packed my parachute. In their own way, each helped me land a little more safely. Some have been true teachers for me, some have been compassionate healers, and some have put me in touch with deep, spiritual values. They influenced me more than they ever knew.

Who is packing your parachute? And just as important, whose parachutes are you packing? Who looks up to you? Who may depend on you for courage or encouragement? For understanding or guidance?

To those who have packed my parachute over the years, I am indebted.

For those who are packing it yet today, I give thanks.

And to those whose parachutes I am packing, I promise to do my best.

-- Steve Goodier

Image: Doss


Anonymous said...

My parents & grandparents gave me all the love & support they could. Because of this, I have always tried to "pay it forward". I never realized how much they supported me 'til I left home for college & met people who did not get that support in the beginning. God Bless all those who help us along with big (and small) contributions.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this story before, and I love it. I have told the following story several times in the fifteen years since my husband passed away. I tear up everytime I tell it. My husband always pumped my gas for me. Never in the 39 years that we were married, did I ever tell him how much I appreciated this. Of course I must have said thank you; but I know I took it for granted. Through the years as I pump my own gas, in the snow, in the rain, in the heat, I feel so bad that I never really said "Thank You". I am sure he hears me now - too little too late. I try not to take everyday occurances for granted any longer.
Donna Coffield, Alabama

Ellie said...

Thanks for offering so many wonderful ways to see the support systems we all depend upon! I've written (it'll publish next week) a post that I'm going to have to revise to include a quote from Steve Goodier's Packing Your Parachute ... it's really good to find a kindred spirit!

Steve Goodier said...

Thanks for the comments. Ellie, you mention that we depend on support systems. That is, of course, what these articles are all about -- a support system for our lives.


@SusanLorelei said...


After all these years of reading your emails, I just wanted to say hello and thank you for all of your wonderful words.

I loved this article and am so glad you have a place now to publish for all.


Unknown said...

Great post!! It made me realize how little things can change one's whole life.

Anonymous said...

I have had many in my life who helped me along the way, just as I have helped many others too. Then there are the other types who are not around to help,but to cause harm. Yes, I too have had more than my share, but they arrived too late in my life to make much difference for I had already been influenced by my life "helpers."

Ellie said...

Enjoyed your post and quoted you in one of mine -- thanks for the good words!