A blue rain poncho, neatly folded into a triangle with one corner tucked in to create its own envelope.
A mess kit – the kind whose handle unscrews slightly so it can swivel around to secure the bowl over the small skillet, concealing another small pot and utensils inside – partially rusted from years of disuse or maybe because it was put away wet the last time he placed it back in his backpack.
A zippered First Aid kit – blue cordura with the words “Ryan Shoaf – Troop 911” neatly printed on one side, clear plastic on the other – filled with bandaids, Neosporin, sting kill swabs, hydrocortisone cream and Tylenol.
A partial roll of toilet paper flattened from miles of travel in the bottom of the pack.
A handful of rope for tying packs up in trees or making Monkey fists by the campfire in the evening.
These were the concrete, tangible items that I removed from Ryan’s Kelty backpack a few weeks ago as we sorted through more things in preparation for moving. I held each item in my hands as Richard and I decided its fate. Some things went in the trash, some to Goodwill and a few into one of the boxes of Ryan’s personal belongings that we still keep.
There were intangibles in that backpack too; a sense of adventure, love of the outdoors, skills learned and those left unconquered when his life ended too soon. And memories, oh the memories. Canoe trips on the New River, hikes in the Grayson Highlands, dinners cooked over the campfire and countless hours of laughter and friendship shared with his fellow scouts and scout leaders. More memories than his Mom was made privy to.
Than came the big question: the backpack itself. Keep or give away? After several minutes of discussion and a few tears we decided that we were ready to part with it. I leaned it against several boxes in the “Give Away” pile and moved on to some easier fare to sort. I needed to live with this decision for a few days before I acted.
One day later that week it popped into my head that we should offer Ryan’s backpack to the son of a longtime friend. It felt right to pass part of Ryan’s legacy along to a friend’s child. The thought brought a smile, so I contacted my friend and made the offer. She very kindly accepted and said they would be honored to have Ryan’s backpack.
I removed all the tangibles from that blue Kelty backpack. If you looked inside, you might think it empty. But you would be wrong. In fact, it’s quite full. Full of adventure, full of fun, full of learning and full of life.
Andrew started Tiger Cubs this year. He enjoyed his first Pinewood Derby last week. He’s too small for the backpack now. But boys grow quickly, and he’ll be ready to load it up with his own unique set of tangibles before long.
Andrew, we hope this blue Kelty backpack brings you as much joy and fun as it brought Ryan. He loved helping younger scouts. After his death we heard quite a few stories from parents of younger scouts in the troop whom Ryan had guided and assisted on camping trips. I think we can safely say that he’ll be watching over you along your scouting journey. And helping to keep your backpack full.