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 losing 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!” and 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, which made the parachute collapse. In the spinning darkness, 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 without a parachute, he landed directly in a large hole dug to conceal tanks. This angled landing allowed him to slide down the embankment verses taking a direct hit. The second miracle occurred when even though the extreme force of the fall broke his M-4 assault rifle in half, which was slung across his right side, it cushioned his fall and perhaps saved his leg. On top of being knocked out, he sustained multiple bruised ribs, a fractured elbow, and permanent damage to 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 and to act and not be acted upon. Hopefully in most cases we surround ourselves with those who use their agency for good and for the betterment of those around them, but there are times when others around us use their agency to drag us down and “steal air” from our parachute.
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-Christlike, but it does mean we may need to be considerate of 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 moneychangers’ 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 themselves and others down.
Abusive relationships do not fall into 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 moneychangers category and should be quickly thrown from our lives, perhaps with the help and guidance of mental health professionals and trusted loved ones.
It is also ever important to learn how to love and uplift even ourselves. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said it this way:
“It may seem odd to think of having a relationship with ourselves, but we do. Some people can’t get along with themselves. They criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves. May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally. Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Of Things That Matter Most,” October 2010).
When our hearts are in the right place because we have surrounded ourselves with uplifting people, we have the ability to more clearly see God’s hand in our lives — and then perhaps we can even view ourselves a little more as He sees us. He is a loving Father who wants us to be happy and successful.
May we ever recognize and cultivate relationships that help 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 would without compromising our parachute’s integrity by allowing them access to our air space. We can climb higher, see clearer, and find our true potential when we put our trust in the Savior and in His mighty power to save.
Janette Beverley is a lover of life, family, music, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, and has five amazing children and one equally amazing husband. Janette is excited to be writing for LDS Blogs and sharing her love and passion for finding the miraculous among the mundane, the awe-inspiring among the obvious, and the uplifting among the underestimated. To read more of her work, you can visit Janette's personal blog here.