The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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For my entire adult life I’ve been searching for kindred spirits. I’ve spent eight years in various communal living situations, clumsily attempting to weave a family of shared sensibilities, working to slough off my history of isolation and repression. The struggle has been rewarding, but also full of disappointments and disillusion.
When I imagine my ideal life partners, I end up with an idealized description of myself: openhearted, generous, bursting with creative energy, passionately committed to the healing of the Earth and its people. Those I find are more like I am in actuality — mired in fear, self-righteousness, doubt, stinginess. So I’ve often left communal situations feeling that “the chemistry wasn’t right”; we weren’t meant to be together. Now I have grown uncomfortable with that line. Too often I’ve used it as an excuse for my dishonesty and unwillingness to risk.
These issues are very immediate for me as I find myself struggling in my current situation — an intentional family of four adults and two children, working to buy land and create a tribal village. I still find myself feeling separate, different, unaligned.
I’ve got kindred spirits confused with saviors — beings who will lift me out of my muck with their numinous energy. Actually, I need people to join me in the muck, and through our bonds of common and honestly shared pain and neurosis, we will pull ourselves onto the dry ground of sanity. We can summon our creativity, compassion, and commitment to bring our wounded spirits out of the closet.
Grass Valley, California
I used to think that “kindred spirits” meant two souls enmeshed, similar, in sync; but since I married my husband three years ago, I’ve come to understand that expression in a new light. We are complete opposites, he and I. I am a gregarious extrovert; he is a quiet, solitary introvert. I am a passionate, volatile, intense, expressive Jew; he is a calm, controlled, think-first-act-later Christian. I know a lusty, personal, intimate, sometimes angry, sometimes forgiving God; his is an always loving, always forgiving, benign and gentle God. Mine has a sense of humor more evident than his. I seek more, more, more of anything good; he treasures a tiny shell found years ago on the beach. My music sounds best when it can be heard from outdoors when all the doors and windows are shut; his is more like a pan flute echoing softly through a cave. I enjoy luxuries such as thick towels; he would use a newspaper to blot himself dry. I watch movies and then want to watch them again, relive scenes and analyze them; he watches attentively but afterward he rarely has anything to say. I get seasick and frightened on boats; he loves the adventure of rough-sea sailing and all the challenges that the ocean offers him. I salivate with delight at the mention of New York City, jazz piano bars, luxury hotels, and posh restaurants; he cringes. I love exotic fragrances and oils; he has no sense of smell. I appreciate the beauty of plants, trees, flowers, orchids; he knows infinite details about them. I love and am energized by pre-dawn walks and talks; he is silent and grumpy in the morning.
What makes it work? The mystery seems to lie in some inner sense we share that God has choreographed this union and wants it to succeed. There is something about the way we merge our undeveloped selves like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, constantly arranging and re-arranging the pieces to find the fit. My zest and enthusiasm enliven him; his quiet and peacefulness allow me precious rest. My anger is appeased by his rationality. We laugh a lot at and with each other.
Are we kindred spirits? Maybe not by some definitions, but anyone who joined our celebrations at our Sabbath table or Holy Communion could feel it.
There’s a picture that really gets to me. I saw it in one of those big, glossy coffee table books — a photograph of a white clapboard house. It’s a summer house with long porches and a turret with tiny windows on its witch’s cap roof. A wide green lawn sweeps down to a lake. Pine trees are all around and the lawn is sprinkled with sunlight. I have never been in this house, but I know it. I know that inside there is an old mahogany staircase, rag rugs tossed over polished pine floors, a stone fireplace in the living room, and a wood-burning stove in the enormous kitchen. I know there is a pantry where shelves are crowded with mismatched chipped dishes, iron skillets, muffin tins, and cream-colored mixing bowls in all sizes. I know there are bedrooms upstairs with iron beds, patchwork quilts, and casement windows that open wide. There are wooden bureaus with starched linen bureau scarfs and tall pitchers filled with flowers. I know there are also sleeping porches with beds hung from creaking ropes, where a person can lie on a summer night and smell the pines that scritch-scratch on the screen, and listen to the hot bugs hum. Just looking at this house makes my heart ache. At first I didn’t understand this reaction. I actually thought it was the house I wanted.
I can see rocking chairs on the porch, a wicker chaise with a hole in the arm where you could set a drink, and a porch swing big enough for two. In the lake is a floating dock, a square thing where you could flop in a bathing suit, dangle your legs, or lay out picnic baskets before climbing into the boats for an afternoon of fishing or canoeing.
There are no people in this picture, but the ache I feel is full of people: grandparents who died before I was born; cousins and uncles and friends; kindred spirits, all creatures of my imagination, who love and feel comfortable with each other and live for the times when they can flock together in this house. The ache this creates in me is for something that money cannot buy and something that can never be. I want people who share a history with me. I want doorjambs burnished with ancient fingerprints, growth charts on the backs of closet doors, desk drawers crammed with scorecards from card games past, hideouts in the woods we can sneak back to every summer. I want linens with initials embroidered by my grandmother for her trousseau, silver worn and eroded by countless family meals. I want my husband to be the only husband I ever had, my child to be his child and his children to be mine. I want my father still living and my mother young and sprightly enough to paddle off in one of those canoes. I want my grandmother in the kitchen rolling out a pie crust and my grandfather on the porch, swinging in a hammock in a seersucker suit. I’d like to dissolve the awkwardness my sisters, brother, and I feel around each other, and give us mellow summer evenings talking or playing charades. I’d like to get rid of the television set, and have everyone excited about the idea of playing charades. I’d like our teenage children to stay teenaged forever and happy to be here on the lake, wrapped in the warmth and comfort of this house, our house.
New York, New York
I was fourteen, still a child, when he came up to me at school and introduced himself. Bill was one of the faculty members; he said he had been watching me. He wanted to be my friend.
I was a quiet, friendless girl. His company was a treasure for me. All my little concerns were important to him. He would tell me I was special, and I’d blush and shake my head no. Then he would give me a quick hug, which made me uneasy because in my family we never touched each other. But he taught me to trust him and his friendship. Then he sexually abused me.
Bill knew my fears and weaknesses so well that he had no problem convincing me that the incident had been my fault. I felt like a whore. He kept me quiet by telling me that I was the only reason he wanted to keep living and that he would never do it again. So we made an unspoken agreement: he would listen to me when I needed someone to talk to, and I would keep the secret.
But I despised him and myself. I could not trust him to keep his hands off me, nor could I break myself of the need to hear his sweet lies. He still told me I was special, beautiful, and good. And he knew me so well.
When I was seventeen, I believed the only way I could break free of him was to prove that I had changed, that he did not know my thoughts anymore. So when it was time to decide on a career, I hid my thoughts, avoiding Bill and lying to everyone else.
When I’d made my decision, I felt free, defiant, and bold. I was giddy with pleasure when I asked him, “What do you think I’ve chosen for my major?” He looked at me carefully, pondering my face for a moment, and told me, “I think you’d like to be an aerospace engineer.”
My heart went cold. I wanted to scream. I wanted to claw his smiling face. Bill had guessed right and laid claim to me again. I felt like a prisoner who, at the moment of being freed, is branded with the mark of her captor.
I haven’t talked to Bill for nine years, but I’m still not free of him because I’m still afraid to trust. No one has known me better than Bill. Perhaps no one ever will.
Hal did not stay in my life very long. He blew in, long and lean, when I needed him the most. He was anti-nuclear, and save-the-forests-and-the-whales. He remembered all the old Pete Seeger songs, like “We Shall Overcome” and “Solidarity Forever.” We played a game in which he would whistle a song and I would try to guess its name. Even though we had not known each other for long, we shared a common history. In bed, he kept a foot or an arm over me, which he called “anchoring.” We fit together well.
When he left, I missed him. I loved Hal — not with the gut-wrenching, head-spinning kind of love that makes the modern world go round, but with a kinship much as a family feels, a faithfulness that does not disappear through differences or distance.
Before we knew each other, my friend and I bought the exact same item — a vacuum cleaner — in the very same store during the same sale. Also, every time we went to a certain secondhand store, we both suffered lower abdominal pains.
After we met, we learned that we experienced the same “laugh cramps” in our heads when we laughed. Although she is Norwegian and I am American, we both have Swiss mothers. She cooked and baked much the same as my mother and grandmother. I’ve never met anyone before or since even familiar with these dishes.
We had the same style, the same tastes, and a similar look — not only were we of similar height and weight, but we dressed in vintage, thrift-store clothes and wore our long hair in the same variations. We had a similar body language. We were each told that we looked like the same actress. Our children went to the same school and were friends. Of course, we shared a whole body of interests, beliefs, and priorities.
I like the thought that “we are all one,” a spiritual cliche that most of us rarely, if ever, actually experience. But is it possible that my friend and I are really parts of the same being? Could we be living two lives simultaneously? With how many more people might we be sharing simultaneous lives? And if it is possible to share a life simultaneously with many, then is it not possible we are all one?
In the tenth grade I wanted my friend Laurie to be my kindred spirit because she was brave. She dated an older guy whom her parents didn’t like. But she snuck out on dates anyway.
One Saturday afternoon we met at the downtown arcade. Laurie dragged me into the bathroom and began redoing my makeup. She caked on rouge, eyeliner, eyeshadow, lipstick, and even put perfume on my wrists and neck. Then she pulled out her pocket curling iron and straightened my frizzy hair.
When I looked in the mirror I couldn’t believe how beautiful I was. I was so grateful to Laurie. She had transformed me from a girl into something better. Nobody else had ever done that for me.
In the arcade we leaned against the pinball machines and watched the boys play pool. When the jukebox played “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer, we sang along, because that song made us feel like something good could happen for us — like riding around in Kirk Riley’s car or going to a party. That was the hot stuff we wanted. Laurie got it, and I went along until I felt like an intruder. Then I went home alone with runny makeup and frizzy hair.
Then one Saturday afternoon, instead of going to the downtown arcade, we went to the Villa of St. Francis. Laurie’s sister Janine worked there, so we thought we’d be good and talk to the residents for a while.
Janine said she’d take us to Hila May’s room because she was talkative and nice. When we got there, Hila May was in bed with the lights off. Her room smelled like cooked beans and vaseline.
“You have visitors today,” said Janine. Hila May sat up slowly and shook her head. Her hair was in tangles. Janine turned on the light. “These two girls are from town and they’d like to talk to you.”
Hila May looked up at us and pulled her face into a wrinkled smile. “Oh, that’s nice. Come in, girls. Come in, come in. Sit down.”
Laurie and I sat down and introduced ourselves. All my fears of keeping up my end of the conversation disappeared because Hila May did all the talking.
“You look just like my best friend, Dotty Johnson,” she said to me. “Everyday we walked to school together. Once, we braided our hair together so nobody could separate us. I’m so glad you came to see me today. I have waited a long time to talk with you.”
Then Hila May leaned over and touched Laurie’s long black hair. “You are a beauty like my sister Beth. She had hair like yours and everyone danced with her. I loved my sister, and I’m so glad you’re here today. I have waited a long time to talk with you.”
Soon a nurse came in. It was time for us to leave, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted Hila May to tell me more about her friends and relatives. When she talked to me as if I were her best friend, I felt included in the closeness that kindred spirits know, and I wanted to hold on to that warmth.
In my loneliest moments since that day, I think of Hila May saying, “I have waited a long time to talk with you.” These words comfort me because I know they connect me to a larger family where the dialogue is never ending.
St. Paul, Minnesota