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This post is named inaccurately. See, this was actually the first mystery message I solved–not the seventh!

It was 2007, and I had just found my very first messages in bottles. I couldn’t believe it was happening–this thing I’d dreamed of for years (finding a message in a bottle) had suddenly become a reality. Crazy!

Then, one day, I stepped out onto a beach where I couldn’t see another human in either direction for miles. I looked down, and bam–there it was. Like magic. It has always freaked me out how this happened. I mean, I just walked out onto the beach, and there it was, like it had been waiting for me. Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of the bottle where it lay. This is the first photo I took with it:

Craig Medcroft Message in a Bottle

Since the bottle was clear and the paper loosely rolled, I could see right away that there was no writing visible. I don’t know what made me even keep it–at the time, I had no idea about hidden writing, or making the invisible visible with lighting tricks or photography tricks. What can I say? I’m a sentimental person. It was too cool of a thing! I just couldn’t bring myself to pitch it.

So I carted it home. One day, gathered with my family, we opened the bottle. A million tiny bits of paper that had once made up the missing piece tumbled out like the pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. There was no hope of putting them back together.

And after that, what was left? Pretty much what you see here:

Everything in the Camera as of 12-11-07 102Everything in the Camera as of 12-11-07 105

In the upper left corner, you see the word “To”. After that, nothing.

I decided to let the paper lie when I took it out of the bottle. I couldn’t read it, but I couldn’t throw it away. I guess there’s some truth to my mom’s accusation that I am a pack rat.

When I came back to the message later in the day, it had dried out quite a bit. Amazingly, I could see some impressions in the paper! It was in that moment that I realized there would be hope for this message and any message like it: As long as the sender pressed hard enough, I would be able to read the impressions left by the pen even if the ink was gone.

Here’s what I was able to decipher (with contact info starred out):

To whom it may concern (Halt.)

I have been taken prisoner by a grumpy old man. My position is N40____By S W 042deg.39.037 Don’t know if I can escape next port.

Please try to contact my mom at area code = ********** or **********

Or write Craig ********

(address here)

This was an important moment for me. As the years went by and I found more and more messages in bottles, I realized that, in fact, the majority of MIBs have faded to the point of invisibility. Only a small percentage arrive on shore with all writing intact. So the discovery that some simple, home-made forensics could reveal hidden writing and connect me with MIB senders was huge!

Even though I was able to read some of the writing, some was really hard to see–including the contact info. The sender’s name, I found, was Craig. But the only phone number I could read lead nowhere. The second phone number was simply too faded for me to see.

That is, I couldn’t see it at the time.

Four years later, in 2011, I got the message out again. In those four years, I had learned a lot about how to reveal even more hidden writing, and how to extrapolate from the info on hand to “fill in the gaps”.

This time, I was able to see the second phone number. I called it, and it was Craig’s mom!

She told me Craig had indeed sailed with his dad a while back, though the part about being taken prisoner was a joke 🙂

Craig and his dad sailed from Virginia Beach to Bermuda, and then from Bermuda to the Azores. Along the way, they got caught in a hurricane for six days. She gave me Craig’s phone number, and that was that.

Later, I called Craig and we got to chat for a few minutes, but he had to go since he was on a job. He was working in construction at the time.

As I write this, it is now five years after I got to chat with Craig on the phone, and almost ten years since I found his bottle.

I still hope we get to talk more one day, and maybe even meet. He struck me as an interesting guy with interesting stories.

Some people may have been bummed to find an “invisible” message with the writing all faded. But I was stoked! I wish I could tell Craig how important his message is to me. I wish I could tell him how much I learned from it about deciphering “mystery messages”. As I see it, Craig’s faded message was not a burden–it was a gift.

Whether I ever hear from Craig again or not, whether he ever sees this post or not, I will always be grateful for our brief connection. Whether out of loneliness or boredom or something else, Craig reached out across the void to see what would happen, to see who was out there, and that’s the only reason we ever connected.

Of course, we all cherish the deep, meaningful, long lasting relationships in our lives the most. But in an age when humanity is more fragmented than ever, lonelier than ever, I find myself cherishing every little fleeting connection, however brief. I’ll take what I can get! You see, I have this theory that every time you acknowledge another person’s humanity, every time a stranger becomes real to you and you understand that they have goals and regrets and brothers and sisters and love and sadness as deep as your own–every time that happens, your heart gets a little bigger. At least, that’s my hope. It’s what I feel.

I got to experience this with Craig only because of his faded, crumbled note in a bottle. And man, am I grateful.