Dad, I’m giving your military sleeping bag to the Anglican Church of Canada. The last time you unrolled this large pocket for sleepy cadets and folded your tall frame into it, Eisenhower was president and your younger brother was still in high school.You were serving in the US Navy and training to become an air traffic controller. From Midway Island, you witnessed atomic testing in the Pacific, received a gooseberry pie in a package from home, and wrote long letters to your sweetheart.
After you returned to civilian life, you kept this olive-green souvenir of your time at Midway’s Naval Air Facility, and after you died in 1995 the bedroll that once padded your barrack’s bunk remained unclaimed. It was stored away in a perpetually coiled state in my Missouri childhood home.
Not long after the 20th century spiraled into the current one, the sleeping bag was unearthed from the depths of storage and given to me. Upon completion of its passage from Missouri to Ontario, it continued its quiet, unfurled existence. Out of active service for 61 years, it didn’t seem likely to ever be called up again, and if the pandemic had not struck, it might have lain in limbo for another decade or two.
But today your Navy sleeping gear is needed again, recommissioned by the Community Director of a downtown Toronto church. He recently requested emergency donations of sleeping bags, water, and hygiene items for people who have pitched their tents against the sheltering bricks of the Church of the Holy Trinity.
So I plucked your bedroll from its dusty cupboard and ran it through the washer and dryer. Then I carefully spun it around itself — a ritual winding prior to resurrection into practical relevance — before bundling it into a large Foody World bag for transport.
On a designated donation day, I arrived fifteen minutes before the doors of Trinity opened. To pass the time, I walked the nearby labyrinth with the loaded dolly — containing your sleeping sack, a case of water bottles, and a friend’s gift of soap, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and a blanket — that trailed behind like an awkward pilgrim on wheels.
As I twisted and turned according to the guidelines of an ancient pattern, I meditated on the evolving, looping journey of the sleeping bag — from Midway Island to the Midwest, United States to Canada, Cold War to global pandemic, Navy to non-military encampment, father to daughter, car trunk to dolly, labyrinth to arched door.
In the gentle maze of my mind’s centre, images related to the transfer of ownership appear: my father is in the sleeping bag, 21 years old and having just seen the ocean for the first time. And now it’s 2020 and a new person is snuggling into the bedding, someone who needs it.
Dad, I see your spirit in the sleeping bag gift. I remember how you volunteered as a job counselor at a local shelter and as a listener for a cancer hotline. I still see you in acts of service and care, the unrolling of a temporary bed, its careful placement in a tent, a shelter during a time of pain. If you could send a message to your brother or sister in sleep, I believe it might go like this:
Take this donation with my blessing and heartfelt prayers for your well-being. May it provide a protective layer between you and the hard ground as well as the cold without.
Like you, I have known struggle. I fought a cold war, lived with epilepsy, and battled for my very life, surviving two bouts of cancer before the third one got me. I was vulnerable. I was scared. I often felt alone. But suffering passes. You keep smiling. You keep making jokes.
May this old but sturdy bedroll of mine help you sleep through the night, giving you strength to face the morning. May it contain some of my optimism, fight, and love to match yours. May it not let you down.
Sleep well, dear comrade, and may sanctuary enfold you always.
Be warm. Be well. Be safe.
Be at peace.