I make my bed in the morning. I’m sure I read somewhere that this is a good strategy to start the day well. It’s how I end my routine that begins my day – every day, for years now, even on weekends, holidays, and breaks, and even if it wasn’t me who slept in my bed. During this winter break, both of our daughters were home for a few weeks. They are in their early twenties and nearing the end of their post-secondary studies. While my wife joined me on a short road trip to visit BCPVPA members in their communities before the break, our youngest daughter tucked into our bed rather than sharing one with her sister. My youngest is about to turn twenty-three, and she apparently doesn’t subscribe to the same morning routine I’ve developed. So, after arriving home and before I unpacked, I set to making our bed. It was then that I spied something peeking out from under a pillow.
At first glance, I thought it may be a pair of flannel pyjamas, folded and tucked beneath the pillow until bedtime. I smiled at the habits we carry with us from childhood. Lifting the pillow, I discovered I was wrong about the pyjamas, but right about the habits. Under the pillow on my wife’s side of the bed was a well-worn piece of pink flannel, about the size of a hand-held flag, folded in half once, and then once again. I recognized it immediately, my smile growing melancholy with the images rising from twenty-three years which have passed so quickly. The folded piece of pink flannel is all that remains of the original comforter.
If we reach into our own histories, many of us can identify something that helped us feel secure. Parting with these comforts – or worse, losing them – can be hard to accept and work through. It’s been more than fifty years, and I still remember my search for Jojo. I had been living in Edmonton with my parents, until they didn’t live with each other any longer. There can be many things gained and lost in the tallies of a home divided, but in this move I lost my first comforter: a stuffed monkey.
Parents go to remarkable ends to retrieve, repair, or replace their child’s favoured comforter. With Jojo in mind, I made sure we had a ‘back-up’ of our first daughter’s Piglet, just in case. She also had a blanket she would not sleep without – and, yes: we backed that up, too. The favourite of our youngest was a soft, knitted, baby blanket with a satin border. The border proved more resilient to the active life of a toddler than was the wool, which began to disintegrate long before kindergarten. To hold together the fraying blanket, my wife stitched to it a pink flannel backing. Over time, the soft wool disappeared entirely; eventually, even the satin border gave up, leaving only the flannel fabric. That the original shower gift had completely worn away didn’t matter to our daughter, and apparently still doesn’t. She finds security in the meaning behind the flannel, not necessarily the actual blanket. Although its practical purpose is modest, that little piece of fabric continues to bring her comfort.
Nearly two years ago, seeking safety and security, our societies embraced several comforters. Our hands have never been more clean, and a little piece of fabric became a prominent signal of duty, compassion, compliance… and division. And the breadth and depth of this division has become disturbing in recent days.
My daughters will be nurses, and one of them is working as a student nurse in the Fraser Health Authority. On the eve of her last shift, she discovered that memos had been distributed to health care workers in Metro Vancouver; these memos encouraged staff not to wear scrubs while travelling to and from work. For their own safety, it was strongly advised that health care workers pass among the public unrecognized, wearing nothing that would reveal who they are in our communities. My first instinct was visceral: angry, and protective, wanting to simply keep her locked up at home. Reason won out, and I settled for walking her to the bus stop and picking her up from the train fourteen hours later. The second wave of reaction was slow to simmer; it had to pass through confusion and dissonance to become formed and recognized as sorrow.
I struggle: how did our society get from sounding praise with pots and pans to sounding antagonism while draped in the flag? How have things devolved to this place where semis and cyclists clash at intersections, and parents wear handcuffs in a schoolyard? I know this division is not new; it has percolated throughout the pandemic. I know this division is about more than pieces of fabric; it is about opposing ideals of comfort and security that pit perceptions of freedom against protection. And I know that Principals and Vice-Principals in BC have exhausted themselves to uphold their duty to ensure safe, caring, and orderly schools in the face of this rift. But in recent days, I know that duty grows heavier.
While neighbouring jurisdictions are making declarations to “move on from a widespread pandemic response”, Premier Horgan declared that BC would take “advice and counsel from public health officials”, and that an arbitrary decision of an elected official is “not the best way forward.” Without a crystal ball nor the gift of foresight, I do not know what news Dr. Bonnie Henry will share on February 16th, the date of expiration for some health orders. While they are unlikely to bridge the divide, I am hopeful for some hint of the imminent spring.
Is it ironic that February 15th is Flag Day in Canada? It is a day to reflect upon unity and shared values, and it falls at a time of perhaps our greatest division in this pandemic. Is it serendipitous for me that February 15th is also my daughter’s birthday? It is a day for me to reflect on all she has become and will be, and it falls at a time when I need to be reminded of small comforts… such as those found in a little piece of fabric.