The Gift of Kindred Spirits
I write this from a place in Michigan at which, every two years, there is a gathering of spirits. The place is Calvin College and the occasion is their bi-annual Festival of Faith and Writing. The spirits are kindred spirits, people who understand me and who I understand, though we are largely unknown to each other. I want to put in a good word for kindred spirits.
A kindred spirit is not the same as a friend, loved one, family member, or person one respects and values—though any of these could also be a kindred spirit. To borrow from someone (I think CS Lewis), a kindred spirit is not someone with whom you exchange looks; rather it is someone who looks in the same direction as you do–in the best of times, looks with you. You experience the same thing and value it similarly. And, therefore, value and enjoy each other.
The word ‘kindred’ comes from the same root as the word ‘kind’—using the latter in both the biological and ethical sense. Biological in that one system of classification groups entities by common characteristics (opposable thumbs, for instance). Ethical in the sense that recognizing our basic human relatedness is the foundation for kindness.
The common characteristics of my particular group of kindred spirits include the following: love of words, ideas, stories, reading, art, travel, both the new and the old, God, the 1959 Dodgers, and so on. A kindred spirit does not have to share all your interests or values, but there is a required yet unspecified minimum. (Maybe three—a nice trinitarian number.)
Many—maybe most—of my kindred spirits are dead. They are spread through history, but they are more alive to me than many folks I see on screens or run across elsewhere. The photo on my computer desktop, for instance, is of Alexander Solzhenitsyn standing next to my mentor, Ed Ericson. Both gone from us, but in an important sense neither very far away.
One way you identify a kindred spirit among the folks you actually spend time with is the number of things you don’t need to say. If you both hear or read or see something wonderful, you can simply smile at each other. Chatter about it is not necessary. But if you want to chatter about it, that’s okay, too.
If you happen on a kindred spirit—dead or alive—be kind. Cultivate them. Encourage them. Spend time with them. Tell them they aren’t crazy. They are a gift to you and you should prize each other.