When I met my husband in 1996 he was serving in the US Army as an Airborne Ranger in the 2nd battalion in Ft. Lewis, Washington. We like to say that Bryan had three lives while in the Army, not the customary nine. Nearly loosing these lives guided him in his decision to get out of the Army. Here’s the story of nearly lost life number one.
At 0200 while preparing for a night jump, Bryan and his platoon members were suiting up and preparing to board a C-130. During the long flight, and after multiple Rangers had thrown up onto the deck of the plane the air was rank and miserable. When they finally reached their destination, the men adjusted their night vision goggles, checked their parachutes for the 100th time, and secured all weapons before preparing to hook up their static line. The static line is a chord attached to each parachute that is secured to a cable on the aircraft that causes the chute to open after each Ranger jumps. The quick succession with which the jumping occurs can sometimes leave room for soldier error, midair collisions or parachute compromises. Unfortunately for Bryan this was precisely what happened during his jump.
As the green light came on the Squad leader yelled, “Go, Go, Go,” one Ranger at a time jumped from the aircraft. Bryan was fourth to jump from the plane and had a successful jump, until suddenly out of the corner of his eye he saw one of his fellow soldiers coming fast, directly towards him. His Ranger buddy had turned his chute opposite the intended direction, and was now barreling straight towards him. Within a matter of minutes, the soldier went directly under Bryan, causing him to lose his air and the parachute to collapse. In the spinning darkness and unable to get his bearings, Bryan free fell close to 100 feet straight towards an unknown landing zone. During this time all he could do was plead with God to spare his life.
The first tender mercy happened when instead of hitting the dark ground flat, he landed directly in a large hole dug to conceal tanks. This angled landing allowed him to slide down the embankment verses a direct hit. The second miracle occurred when even though the extreme force of the fall broke his M-4 assault rifle slung across his right side in half, it cushioned his fall and perhaps saved his leg. He was knocked out, bruised multiple ribs, fractured an elbow and permanently damaged his knee, but he was able to walk away from this terrifying experience alive.
From this experience we draw the parable of “stealing air.”
In this life we are given free agency, the ability to choose for ourselves, to act and not to be acted upon. Hopefully in most cases we surround ourselves with those who use their agency for good, for the betterment of those around them, but there are times when others around us use their agency to drag us down and “steal our air.”
We all know people who regardless of their circumstances in life find negativity in everything. They hate the weather, the traffic, their neighbors, the loud kids in church…just everything. They tend to criticize others in the hope that by doing so they will somehow feel better about themselves. They are takers: Takers of joy, takers of confidence, takers of air.
Sometimes the best way to protect ourselves from these “takers,” is to create distance. We find the ability to be friendly without bringing them into our daily lives. We show love by a smile across a crowded room or a wave from a car window. Protecting ourselves from harmful relationships doesn’t mean we need to be un-Christ like, but it does mean we may need to be creative at how we interact.
Like the Army Ranger whose misdirected jump caused Bryan’s parachute to fall, they may not always know that their actions are literally stealing our air. The Savior’s plea is for us to treat others the way we would like to be treated. He asks us to “feed His sheep,” and “love one another.” However, he also overturned the money changers table and threw them from the temple. He does not ask us to stay in harmful relationships, He simply wants us to “love those who despitefully use us and persecute us.” Perhaps the best way to do this is to pray for them. Pray to love them, pray to understand them and even pray for solutions on how to help them overcome their negative attitudes that are pulling ourselves and others down.
Abusive relationships do not fall in to this category. The Savior of mankind would never want us to remain in a relationship that is abusive either physically or emotionally. These relationships fall into the money changers category and should be quickly thrown from our lives, perhaps with the help and guidance of loved ones around us.
May we ever recognize and cultivate relationships that cause us to stay afloat and enjoy life’s splendid views. May we pray for the “takers,” and be brave enough to treat them like the Savior without compromising our parachutes integrity by allowing them access our air space.