by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, I suspect we all are unaware of many things that we take for granted.

To take something for granted is to not appreciate its full value. This can occur for something that we experience on a day-to-day basis, and so we become accustomed to its availability. For example, we often forget how valuable food, clean water and shelter are to us — or even our many freedoms — until we don’t have them.

To take someone for granted is to not acknowledge the difference they make in our lives. This may mean not showing appreciation to our parents, teachers or siblings for the help they give us throughout our lives. In addition, we probably never think about many other people without whom our world would be very different. People with essential skills and responsibilities such as tradesmen, engineers and factory workers, who in turn make available and accessible the many things we tend to take for granted.

I’m reminded of a story I was recently introduced to — the life story of Charles Plumb, a U.S. 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 and spent six years in a communist prison camp. He survived his ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from his experience. It was one of his lessons that a friend shared with me.

Apparently, Plumb and his wife were in a restaurant one evening when a man who had been sitting at another table approached. This man recognized Plumb and knew he had flown jet fighters from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War. And, he knew Plumb had been shot down. To Plumb’s surprise, this man served on the same carrier, and Plumb was even more surprised to learn this man had packed his parachute the day he was shot down. With this news they shook hands, and the man exclaimed, “I guess it worked!” Plumb expressed his gratitude, responding, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

While that was the end of their exchange, the incident kept Plumb from sleeping that night. He tried to imagine the man in his Navy uniform and wondered how many times he could have seen him in passing without any acknowledgment. Fighter pilots had a tendency to not give much attention to those who were “just sailors,” Plumb said. But now, Plumb said he couldn’t stop thinking about the many hours this sailor had spent “weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.”

Since this encounter, Plumb started asking his audiences, “Who’s packing your parachute?”

Plumb, of course, wasn’t referring to a physical parachute like the one this sailor had packed for him. In fact, Plumb says he needed many other kinds of parachutes to survive his six-year experience in the hands of his enemies and also mentions his mental, emotional and spiritual parachutes. He reminds everyone to be sure we recognize all the people who pack our parachutes, which prepare us to weather whatever storms lie ahead in our lives.

And by the same token, perhaps we also should be asking ourselves, “How’s our parachute packing?” Our lives interconnect with many people during our lifetimes, and we knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, make an impact and difference in the lives of the people who cross our paths. Parachute packing is important work, and the job we do could save a life. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our everyday lives, we forget that we do make a difference, and that what we say and do matters to someone.

Perhaps, too, we have a tendency to focus too much on what is wrong in our lives. After all, we’re trained quite well by the news media, which generally accentuate the negative aspects of life — deaths, disasters, diseases. We probably all have days when we wonder if anything went right in the world. But an excess of the stressing all that’s bad about life can lead to a tendency to take for granted all that’s good. Sometimes we don’t realize what was good until it’s gone. We must not wait until we lose something to place a high value on what we have. We can begin now to appreciate, treasure and nurture all we’ve been blessed with.

I think one of our country’s greatest blessings is the U.S. soldier, who perhaps is best exemplified by the scripture: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:8).

When I think about things I take for granted — my air-conditioned home or clean running water, along with all the other comforts and luxuries my home includes — I can’t help but think about our soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Perhaps we could all give pause every day, not just on days like Memorial Day, and consider what yesterday was like for our soldiers — were they able to sleep; take a shower; have a hot, cooked meal; drink some cold water? We can make certain we don’t take for granted the sacrifices of America’s soldiers and make sure we’re thankful they are willing to be there for us and do whatever is asked of them. And, we can make sure we express our thanks when given the opportunity.

The peopling of the world is surely part of the divine design of Love. We are people who need people, and God has tenderly provided for the meeting of our needs with the gift of one another. May we someday let ourselves love one another; then not only will we never take anyone or anything for granted, but also we will have no basis for hatred or war.