U.S. Navy pilot Charles Plumb flew seventy-four successful missions in his jet over Vietnam, but on his seventy-fifth he was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. After parachuting into enemy territory, he was imprisoned for six years in a concentration camp. Years later, he and his wife were approached by a stranger in a restaurant.
“You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” exclaimed the man.
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.
Plumb says in his talks, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform: a white 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, because, you see, I was a fighter pilot, and he was just a sailor.”
For days, the man whose name Plumb never caught would’ve spent hours inside the windowless rooms of the ship Plumb flew his jet from, a Naval seaman working conscientiously to do a boring, thankless, repetitive job, folding up the parachute just right, never knowing the person who might one day use it. And never knowing how much of a difference his moments of concentration would have on another person’s life. Seriously, how many pilots would ever have to know if the parachute would even work, let alone the guy whose sole job it was to pack it.
Suddenly, for Plumb, the little things mattered. And for one shining moment in a restaurant stateside, a Naval guy and an Air Force guy realized that a super little thing mattered. Whoa.
I’ve been wondering about the little things lately. What little things could we do to help someone else out? What little thing could I do to keep the virus from spreading to one more person? What could we do to be people of faith who would help someone else see how much the God of the universe loved them?
In John 6, one little boy shows up to a meeting of a lot of hungry people. His mom had packed his lunch of five loaves and two fish (he was a growing boy) and he offered it up to Jesus when Jesus was looking for a way to feed everyone there – five thousand people. And Jesus takes that offering, prays over it, and BOOM, the crowd gets fed. That miracle is one of the most celebrated of Jesus’ early career – but if a mom doesn’t pack a lunch, if a kid doesn’t offer it up, what does Jesus make the feast out of?
What are your five loaves and two fish? What’s your parachute to pack today, small but so important?
Is it a wave? A smile? Leaving an excess roll of toilet paper on a neighbor’s porch? Walking the mail in from the mail box for an elderly neighbor? Raking leaves for a sick shut-in? A grocery run for a high-risk friend? Simply NOT doing something you want to as a way to limit the range of exposure for someone else?
I don’t know what little thing you could do today. But I bet if you figure it out, it could make all the difference.