Pages of People: The Bench Guest Book

A few weeks ago, I was out for a walk with my family. It was a warm October afternoon, and we decided to explore an area of a local park we had never been to before. It wasn’t anything horribly exciting, just a gravel path along the lake that stretched a few blocks. There were other people walking and biking past, and the water was sparkling in the sunlight. In a little alcove on the path, we stumbled across a bench. It was designed differently than the other town-regulated benches on the path, and my dad noticed that something was attached to the arm of the bench with bungee cords. He and my brother walked past, but my mom and I stopped to investigate.

Strapped to the arm of the bench was a large plastic envelope, with a notebook and pens inside. The cover of the notebook read “Bench Guest Book III”. Inside the notebook were messages from all kinds of people who had sat on the bench or passed by. They only dated back to the beginning of September 2017, but the notebook was already about a third full. It was absolutely intriguing, and I was immediately obsessed with reading the messages.

The messages inside the book varied, to say the least. There were some entries from young kids, entire pages filled with labeled drawings of their families or large, misspelled words. A lot of people began their message with “Dear Bench”, and wrote about how they came to sit on the bench and enjoy the view of the lake. There were many messages from couples, or one half of a couple, writing about how this bench is their favourite spot to spend time together. One couple even said they got engaged on the day they wrote their message.

There were yoga instructors, visitors from foreign countries, and people with cursive writing so squished together it was impossible to read. Someone left their phone number with the instructions “hunnies in grade 11 hmu.” We even found an entry from a couple who are friends with my brother. People left quotes, poems, and song lyrics, all riddled with hidden meanings impossible for anyone but them to truly understand. I could’ve sat there for ages reading the entire thing.

I absolutely love how one thing, no matter how simple, can mean a host of different things to different people. It’s one of the reasons I love books and music and films so much. It’s incredible how hundreds of people can walk on the same path, sit on the same bench, pick up the same notebook, and all have different things to say.

It was a beautiful representation of the wide range of people that walked along that path, and it was actually a bit of an eye-opener for me. It’s very easy to stereotype the town I live in as very “white-picket fence” and the people as pretentious and snobby (it’s fondly nicknamed by surrounding towns as “the bubble”). This book showed how untrue these stereotypes were through the diversity of the people and their messages. Most people who wrote in the book seemed kind and friendly, and I’d love to hear more of their stories.

Of course, I had to leave a message of my own in the book. I thought about what to say for a little while. There were endless possibilities, from song lyrics to quotes to a simple message about how I stumbled across the bench in the first place. Eventually, I decided on quoting a poem I was writing an essay about that weekend and adding my own little twist. This is my entry:

So, that’s about all I have to say about my encounter with the Bench Guest Book. I hope the book holds out through the winter months, because knowing Canada, there could be snow up to your knees in the blink of an eye. I’d love to get in contact with whoever began this initiative to tell them how wonderful of an idea it is (and to read Bench Guest Books I and II!). I definitely intend on visiting it again and taking more time to read all of the entries. I’m even considering starting something similar on a bench closer to my house.

I’d love to know your thoughts about the Bench Guest Book, and whether you’ve come across something similar where you live. Leave a comment below or tweet us @Fuzzable to let us know!

Written by Annemarie

Canadian arts & culture writer and journalism student.

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