The Parachute Paradigm

Parachutes have always fascinated me. Not because I love high adrenalin activities; far from that, I am acrophobic – I do have an inordinate fear of heights! What fascinates me is the fact that it works only when it is open. A closed parachute is a dysfunctional one. No wonder Anthony J. D΄Angelo says in The College Blue Book, “Minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.” What a brilliantly drawn analogy!

I read about a parachute story that is doing the rounds in the internet – of Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy graduate, who was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. Captured, he spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. On surviving the ordeal he lectured on lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were at a restaurant, a man came up 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 gasped in surprise and gratitude.

The man shook his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today."

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. He kept pondering what his saviour might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. "I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said good morning, how are you or anything else because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor."

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, 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.

Now, Plumb asks his audience, "Who’s packing your parachute?" Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory- he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.

Now, the analogy between the parachute & the mind as well as the anecdote from Charles Plumb’s life brings to fore three prime questions:

Are our minds like the functional parachutes? Are we keeping them open, so that we can absorb new information and think / respond differently? Experience has taught me that we need to keep our minds open and let in change, like a whiff of fresh air. The moment we stop resisting change, we get into the flow and groove of things. And things do fall into place, beautifully.

Are we acknowledging the little cogs in our wheel, those who pack our parachutes? It is not only the people, but each and every event, circumstance and tribulation is worth thanking. For, the more gratefully thoughtful and thoughtfully grateful we are, the more we make room for better things in life.

Are our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parachutes in top gear? Do we exercise and take care of this temple of our body? Do we find time to relax and unwind and keep out mental faculties  sharp? Do we communicate effectively? Or do we bottle up our emotions? Do we do things that nurture our spirit? Do we get in touch with our higher consciousness?

We need to do all the three… to be wholesome people who can make a world of difference – whatever, wherever, whenever, however we can! 🙂

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