28 Days of Inspiration – Day 24

Robert Cook

22-year-old-skydiving-hero-acts-as-a-human-shield-on-impact
Robert Cook and Kimberly Dear. Photo from Sobify

On July 29, 2006 a chartered skydiving plane experienced engine failure and began a fall to earth with eight people on board.  The plane crashed, killing 6 of the people on board – one of whom was 22-year old instructor Robert Cook.

According to ABC News, there is an average of five small plane crashes each day, resulting in approximately 500 deaths annually. Obviously the numbers vary from year to year but the over arching theme is that it’s not infrequent a small plane of this kind crashes – it happens every day – nor, sadly, is it infrequent someone dies in a crash.  What is infrequent is that a survivor can tell the tale of someone like Robert Cook.

Kimberly Dear was on the plane to do a tandem jump with Robert, and as such was harnessed in with him.  She reports that when he realized the plane was going to crash, he harnessed her to him, and held her to his body.

A few days after the crash, her father reported to a local newspaper that:

“He said to her: ‘As the plane is about to hit the ground, make sure you’re on top of me so that I’ll take the force of the impact.’

“The plane actually hit, they believe, a power pole or a power line and it went into a vertical situation, and she became a little bit disoriented, but she felt Robert actually twist his body around until Kim was on top of him and when the plane hit the ground.”

“He took the full force of the impact.”

They had just met that day – she was on vacation from Australia and he was on the planet to instruct others how to skydive.   Yet, he made sure she was going to survive the crash.  Who knows, maybe he knew there was no way he was going to survive.  Maybe he thought this was his best chance of survival.  Maybe his training kicked in.  Or maybe, just maybe, he did what he believed was the right thing to do: to protect someone else from as much harm as possible. He voluntarily gave his life – by any account I could find – so that someone else could live.  In March of 2008, the Australian government awarded him The Star of Courage, an honor for conspicuous bravery in times of peril usually reserved for Australians but is also awarded to foreign nationals acting on behalf of an Australian and is ranked second in the Australian civil bravery decorations in the Australian Honours System.

It took years of rehabilitation, and her body was severely broken, but her spine was not.  She learned to walk again and lived her life.  She married and started a family because of this man she had met only hours before a fateful plane crash protected her and allowed her to continue living her life.

28 Days Of Inspiration – Day 9

“I’m Sorry.” 

Some days it’s harder than others to find inspiration.  I’ve deliberately stayed away from typical names or sayings in favor of more frequently overlooked subject matter; inspiration comes from many sources, but trite sources are hardly if ever inspirational.  I also seek to be educational as well: there’s no use in pointing people to things they may already know.  Taking this approach, though, means that I’ve really got to put some thought into the day’s inspiration; each of these days has been pointed by thoughtful consideration.

Today has not been a terribly inspiring day for me, indeed downright uninspiring.  It’s really difficult to “man up” sometimes, admit mistakes, admit misdeeds and try to make them right.  Doing so confronts the all to familiar reality that we’re not perfect, we are capable of hurting people we love through thoughtless action.

But there is a silver lining, and an inspirational one at that.  Realizing our weaknesses allows us the opportunity to confront them, allows us the opportunity to take control over them; to harness that power we all have and focus it on becoming a better person.

That’s the internal, but it also allows for forgiveness.  It opens the door for your loved one to forgive.  Hate and anger are such destructive forces; they eat you up, steal your time and attention with negativity.  But they’re natural, and expected, responses to having been hurt.  Sometimes those who have been hurt aren’t ready to immediately forgive, but the door has been opened for them to do so.  You can’t always undo what you’ve behaved your way into, but recognizing the damage you’ve done and taking responsibility for it brings that healing much faster. Want evidence? Hospitals and Doctors who apologize for medical errors get sued less.  Apologies are medicine.

So today’s inspiration is the apology.  That heartfelt message that you know and understand the consequences of your actions, your regret, your accepting responsibility can be incredibly inspirational for those around you, and empowering for you to make important changes.

Little Things Make a Big Difference

Today was the 25th anniversary of a high school friend losing his mother.  He recalls learning of his mothers’ passing in 1987, sitting in front of a classroom door…recalling it “as if it happened yesterday.”  I was reminded of this somewhat by accident.  I don’t remember the day – for me it sits in the back of my mind as just another day in late junior year of high school.  For him, his whole world changed.

What strikes me about this is that he tells me, “You were there that day.   I really appreciated your genuineness. Little things make a big difference, and you did make a difference for me that day. You may not even remember. But I do.”  I don’t remember.  I can’t imagine my 17-year-old self having any degree of genuiness in sharing grief with another young man whose world had just changed.

I didn’t dare ask him for details – he was reliving a grief on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, and it was not about me – but I have to admit wanting to know what I could possibly have said or demonstrated to him to have caused him to recall a genuine response and to have made a difference for this young man.  This was at a point in my life when nothing truly bad had ever happened to me.  I had both grandfathers pass away within months of each other when I was but 8-years old, but other than that my life was relatively untouched by trauma.  I had no point of reference, and no word in my vocabulary for “empathy,” never mind a true ability to demonstrate it.  I apparently had said or done something right at the right time.

I have no idea what it could have been, but he remembers it…and says that I made a difference.  I’m not sure I know how that makes me feel.  I don’t know if I should take pride in knowing that at some point in my life I have made a difference for one person at one point in time, or I should be ashamed not to know what it was.  I had to triangulate a bit to realize that I would have been there, and I felt badly not to have remembered what surely would have been significant news in our small high school – I can’t remember an announcement, nothing.  But there I apparently was.  Wednesday, March 27, 1987.

I’m still not sure I know how I feel about failing to remember, but it does speak to this truth: you never know what small gesture will live on behind you, whether or not you remember.  Kindness and, indeed, slights, can be remembered a long time and it is a choice we continuously make in choosing our path.  I can’t believe he would have remembered something that surely was but a small gesture, especially given the magnitude of the experience for him, but he does which only makes it that much more important to remember to demonstrate kindness – no matter how small – to someone at any chance you can.  When else can a small gesture, a small emotional investment, and brief time commitment live on for 25 years or longer?  When thought about in these terms, however that genuiness took shape all those years ago it could have only lasted a few moments – a few moments which were fleeting moments of time regardless of how they were spent – but those moments live on.  An exponential return of time for a few wisely spent moments by a then young man, and recalled not at all by the now middle-aged man.

Little things mean a lot – a point driven home once again.