There are things that you only realize with time. Poet and anti-war activist William Stafford’s “Any Time” is a poem dealing with such a subject.
Parents take their children to Sawtooth, Sun Valley in Idaho. The family is overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery that unfolds before their eyes. The children, however, seem more interested in the gray-haired mother and father holding their hands than the scenery. “Susie’s mother doesn’t have gray hair.” Those words shatter the romantic atmosphere. Children may feel sorry for what they said to their mother, who was holding their father’s hand, only later when they get older. By that time, they will start to grow gray hair, just like their mother. They just don’t know yet.
The children ask their dad to tell them one of his best-kept secrets. “I made a parachute out of broken things. My wounds are my shield,” the dad says. A parachute is a device that slows down the speed of falling things from the air and allows them to land safely on the ground. But how can a parachute be made out of broken things? Like everybody else, the children’s father has also endured hardships in his life, but he was not broken or destroyed by them. Instead, he grew more robust and more resilient because of the painful wounds that made him stumble from time to time. That was what he meant by making a parachute out of broken things.
The paradox of a wound that becomes a parachute that one can ride down anywhere at any time as one wishes is challenging to understand for innocent yet immature children who tell their mother who is holding their father’s hand that their friends’ mother has no gray hair. However, as they live on, the children may someday appreciate the significance of their father's words. There are things whose meanings only become apparent later on, like the analogy of a parachute and the mother’s gray hair. Some things take on meaning only after the utterance.