The Collector

We made our annual trek to Colorado on Sunday. Sometimes we take the scenic route through the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and up into Colorado and the mountains from the South. This year, the crew opted for the straight drive north to Salina and then across the plains to the mountains. The drive is mostly monotonous, and after a while, the things going by blend together. Some things do stand out, and if you pay attention you can see marvelous stuff. I noticed that there are collections of things, as if things gather others like themselves.

Old cars and trucks, farm equipment, even animals and buildings and windmills seemed to gather in clusters separated by the vastness of the plains. I know, of course, that inanimate objects do not gather. Rather, people have brought these things or built these things where they are. What fascinates me is that there is a story behind every grouping and every collection. If I knew these stories, I would know why those objects are important and why they are where they are.

I am a collector. It is part of my obsessive-compulsive behavior. Lamy pens, Stella Artois artifacts, guns, art, and many less significant items. It starts when something about a thing attracts me. My interest leads to investigation, and as I find out more, I become obsessed. Soon, I am compulsively acquiring items to add to the growing collection. Each item has a story and a meaning to me that is often hard to explain to others.

We recently cleaned out our storage, our closets, our drawers, and our cabinets. It was a little frightening to see how much stuff we had accumulated, much of which we probably didn’t need in the first place.

It occurred to me that we are all collectors. Not everyone collects tangible objects. Yet we all collect.

I once saw a commercial for a cleaning product. The commercial opens with kids leaving for school. As they go about their day, the things they touch stick to them, and by the time they come home, they’re dragging many of the things they have come in contact with behind them. The commercial is about germs, but I think it bears a greater truth.

As we move through life, we collect things. We gather obvious and tangible things like furniture and clothes and dishes (and Lamy pens.) However, we also gather many intangible things like memories and experiences and wounds. Like the clusters I saw as we drove across Kansas, it seems that as we move through life, the things we gather also have a similarity.

A person who has collected warmth and love and good memories seems to find more of these. A person who has been wounded and kept that wound fresh in their collection, often collects more sadness and hurt. Like my obsessive-compulsive tendency, we become fixated on our collections and are unable to gather things that do not match.

Like a tangible collection, these gathered experiences and feelings also have stories. As I drive down the highway, it is easy to judge the people and places on the surface of what I can see. However, knowing the stories behind the collections would certainly alter my perception and opinion of both the collection and the collector. The same is true for the emotional collections each of us have acquired. On the surface and from the outside, it might be easy to judge us unkindly. However, if we were able to share the stories about our collection, it would change the nature of other’s opinions of us and would certainly affect our relationships.

Telling our stories is also how we change the nature of our collection. We heal a little each time we share our wound stories and the emotions that accompany them. We also find others with similar collections and can share on a deeper level once the connection is discovered. When we share the stories that make up the collection of our lives, we often inspire and encourage others.

This is the very core of community. Investing the time it takes to learn the stories behind another’s collection, and therefore being able to understand them, is a significant part of valuing others. As leaders, we must make time to listen to the stories around us and be willing to share ours. This vulnerability is the starting point for trust, and trust is the beginning of relationship. Without relationship, each of us looks like a collection a junk. Seeing each collection as the treasure it is and seeing the collector as a person with a valuable story keeps the road interesting and the journey worth taking, and it is The Kimray Way.