As I entered the homestretch of my current work-in-progress and planned for a new Kindred Spirit project, I took a few days at the end of May to travel to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and conduct research in Randall Library’s Special Collections Department, where most of the Kindred Spirit notebooks (see my March 23 post, The Kindred Spirit Mailbox) since about 2009 are housed. From noon on Wednesday through about noon on Friday, I delved into box after box and read well over a thousand messages to the Kindred Spirit in over fifty notebooks before I ran out of time and had to leave for home. Pulling each notebook from its folder and file box, then, holding each one to my nose, I could smell sunscreen and sand and see in my mind’s eye the remote sand dunes surrounding the mailbox and hear once again the wind in the sea grass and the waves breaking onto the beach.
Back in the hotel after my first afternoon of research, I continued to feel amazement at the very fact that, in this time of social media and our fast-paced lives, so many would walk more than two miles from the nearest parking lot to sit on a wooden bench and pour their hearts out with certain belief that the Kindred Spirit is real and can impart guidance and wisdom and answer prayers. My mind wouldn’t stop working (I would dream about the messages every time I slept for days), and I began making notes—general observations and impressions—about the hundreds of messages I’d already perused. By the time I left, I’d noticed patterns in many of them and had identified several dozen individual messages that stood out for their poignancy and as a glimpse into the human spirit.
Observations About the Kindred Spirit Notebooks/Messages
How Messages Often Begin
- I finally made it! I can’t believe I made it! (reference to length of walk to get there)
- I’ve been here to write 15 times or this is my first/second/third time coming here to write or my family has come here every year for 20/30/etc. years.
- A lot has happened since I was here last.
- What a beautiful place!
- Dear _____, Whenever I come here I think of you.
Frequent formats of messages
- A prayer of praise, supplication or thanksgiving
- A letter to a deceased loved one; the same writer might return multiple times to write this way
- A comment, perhaps of encouragement, in the margins next to someone else’s message, though because the notebooks are replaced as they fill, those leaving comments can never know if the original writer has seen them
- A letter to a friend
- An infrequent journal entry
- A confession of regrets, past transgressions, hopes, or dreams.
- This is my favorite place in the world
- I am always at peace when I come here to write
- I’ve never told anyone this . . . leads to a pouring out of deepest feelings/regrets
- I’ve lost my true love; my girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife left me
- My family doesn’t understand me, and I have no one to talk to
- A list of family members/friends on vacation together and their activities
- A litany of things/people for which the writer is grateful
- God is great
- I’ve been going through a rough time, and I have to make an important decision and need guidance
- Messages describing the spot with words such as, peaceful, spiritual, amazing, sacred, magical, holy, sanctuary
- I wish I had made different choices
- Visit to mark a special occasion/milestone
- Treasure every moment because you never know
The Kindred Spirit Mailbox is a popular place for
- Marriage proposals and weddings (often the couple returns on anniversaries)
- Writing on one’s birthday, marking events of the past year and hopes for the next
- Remembering deceased loved ones
- Scattering someone’s ashes
Miscellaneous Observations after reading messages in over 50 notebooks
- German is the most prevalent foreign language, following by French/Quebecois
and Spanish. Also observed were Japanese, another Asian language that might have been Chinese, a romance language I didn’t recognize, and messages written partly in English and partly in Hebrew or Latin.
- Many messages express deep gratitude to the Kindred Spirit for being there to confide in.
- Parents sometime transcribe/create messages from children too young to write.
- Some people draw pictures instead of writing.
- All ages are represented.
- Female writers outnumber male, but not by much except among teenagers.
- Family is more important to the writers than anything else; friendship is second.
- People reveal very personal concerns, many of which the reader senses have never been expressed aloud.
- A surprising number of people sign their full names and places of residence, though many give only first names or initials. Some use sobriquets [Confused in Smithfield returns numerous times, eventually becoming Not So Confused in Smithfield and Confused in Smithfield (Now Living in Sunset Beach)].
- An astonishing number of people write about living with cancer or about family/friends facing or lost to cancer. The writer often asks for healing.
- The saddest messages are from parents whose children have died or young people who’ve parents have died or parents who’ve lost their teenaged children to suicide.
I’d especially like to thank Randall Library’s Special Collections Coordinator Jerry Parnell and Library Specialist Rebecca Baugnon for their help.
Here’s a particular turn of phrase that appealed to me:
Regrets I leave on the outgoing tides. Forgiveness, something I once rationed, I can now release with the wind.
8/25/12, Notebook 333/1/16, August 16 – September 17, 2012