Amidst all the boughs of holly and holiday gatherings during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, there are those quieter moments that are filled with reflections of the things that have happened in our lives, or, in the case of my friend Jim Martz, the one thing that didn’t happen.
For Jim, this year marks the fifth anniversary of an accident that could have ended his mortal moments. Instead, however, he’s been able to enjoy his own wonderful life, a life that includes loved ones and dear friends and, always, a game that for him provided his livelihood for three-plus decades, baseball. Jim was a professional baseball scout after his minor league career ended.
Jim’s anniversary was an auto accident, one that occurred during a routine run for pizza on Lima’s north end, when he blacked out, struck a tree and found himself facing a long and slow process of healing, from St. Rita’s to Springview Manor to rehab and finally, months after striking that tree, back to the place where our hearts tend to be most content, home.
For this Gomer boy, that would be the farmlands that nurtured him and where he first realized he could do some pretty special things when he placed his index and middle fingers on a few of those 108 stitches of a white sphere and hurled it toward a chalked box on the back of a barn.
I visited Jim during his recovery, both in the hospital and at Springview Manor. Really, it’s something we all do when a friend is in need of some support following some medical adversities, and we don’t consider it all that special. How meaningful it is to those lying prone in a hospital bed or confined to a nursing home room certainly was reinforced several weeks ago when Jim sent me an email acknowledging the five-year anniversary of his difficult times and also recognizing the roles that his special lady, Sheryl, his family and his friends played in his recovery.
I was so touched by Jim’s acknowledgment of something I really didn’t see as extraordinary, but it surely validated for me that sometimes in our lives we don’t realize the importance of what are our seemingly small gestures when someone is down.
In the email Jim sent, there was a short story entitled “I Packed Your Parachute” about Charles Plumb, a U.S. Navy jet pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, Plumb was forced to eject after his plane was struck by a surface-to-air missile.
Following his capture, he was confined to a Communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now gives speeches on the lessons learned through imprisonment, lessons applicable to all of us.
One day, decades after his release, Plumb, while with his wife in a restaurant, was approached by a man who recognized him. He told Plumb he knew that he flew fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and was shot down. When Plumb asked how he knew that, the man said he served on the same carrier but worked below deck, packing parachutes for pilots, and that he was the one that packed Plumb’s on that final mission.
Plumb thanked him and told him that if the chute hadn’t worked, he wouldn’t be alive. Following that restaurant encounter, he couldn’t get that moment out of his mind. He kept trying to imagine what the man may have looked like as a young sailor.
He also couldn’t shake the thought that he must have walked by him on that vessel numerous times and never so much as spoke to him. Plumb also thought about the countless hours the man spent in the bowels of that ship at a long wooden table, carefully folding the silks of each chute and packing each correctly to deploy, essentially holding the life of each pilot in his hands with each bundle he prepared.
When Plumb tells his story to audiences, he uses the parachute as a metaphor when he asks his listeners, “Who’s packing your chute?” Of course, what he’s really asking is, “Who’s providing you with exactly what you need in your times of greatest need?”
During his recuperative times five years ago, Jim just wanted me to know that I was one of the people who packed his chute.
I suppose any act of kindness we do for one another helps to pack a chute. As we approach all that festiveness that the next several weeks hold, perhaps in our quiet moments of reflection, that just might be a good time to send an email or write a note the way folks once upon a time did in Charles Plumb’s fighter pilot days just to thank those who’ve packed our chutes during our moments of greatest need.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.