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Do I own my things, or do they own me?

A recent correspondence with a man about a possible mutual exchange of what The Boss Lady here calls “rusty old junk” made me think, hard, about the things we surround ourselves with. These are things that, on their surface, bring us pleasure.

History is important to a successful civilization, and for most people collecting the detritus and symbols of history is a meaningful touchstone to the past. It is deeply satisfying to own and admire authentic representations of human history.

Collecting can be as simple as little cast iron figurines and cornstalk dolls, from a simpler and more humble time, and representative nonetheless. These are fairly inexpensive and fun to display in the living room, and still carry an intriguing punch for the Saturday lunch visitor.

The other end of the spectrum has items so valuable that they must remain under lock and key for all but the most pressing times. These are more investments than for joy.

One guy I know has probably the largest private American battle flag collection extant. It is so large in number, and the flags so large in size, that he must loan them out to various museums around America, despite the capacious capacity of his own home. In museums, these powerful bullet-ridden symbols of American freedom and sacrifice are on public display for any and all comers to see. My friend gets  a sense of satisfaction from both owning and sharing these flags. Not a bad way to collect. The flags are insured and in pretty secure environments. He can recall them at any time should be desire to sell or trade one.

I could go down the line of friends and acquaintances who own and collect expensive horses, automobiles, memorabilia, clothing, machinery, and so on. There is even the guy who at great expense built a majorly off-road pickup truck that he refuses to allow mud on, even when he is in conditions where he must.

Those who hunt with antique firearms face a true dilemma, because sporting guns are by their nature thrust into the most rugged and potentially destructive and damaging environs. Carrying your sleek 1912 Purdey double rifle on a bear hunt in northcentral Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains is a risky proposition no matter how slow you go. But go you may feel compelled anyhow.¬† I would.

Using the rifle’s open sights, you might kill a bear under true fair-chase conditions with the classiest gun in the entire state. Such would be a lifetime achievement. On the other hand, you might drop the rifle, fall on it, bang it, or scratch it in those rugged hills, thereby incurring an expensive trip to gunsmith Abe Chaber in Connecticut, or a ship-and-wait to gunsmith Mike Rowe down south. The incredible satisfaction of both owning and successfully hunting with such a fine firearm is measurably balanced by the risk to the rare gun. And no, money is not the issue with such a gun; the issue is its rarity, impossibility of replacement, and one’s absolute duty to protect it in its original condition, as much as practicable.

So when this fellow and I got into horse-trading mode, and he demonstrated a tangibly possessive and prideful feeling about his own “rusty junk,” it jarred me, got me thinking. Do I own my things, or do they own me?

To own a piece of history and be buoyed by it, informed by it, inspired by it, is one thing. But to be a slave to those things, to turn them almost into graven idols of worshipfulness, is nearly blasphemous. It is dangerous, because it causes us to lose perspective. These are, after all, only material things, by design made by men and destined to return to the earth from whence they came. The most important things in life are not things; they are our family members, our friends, our community, and so on.

So it got me wondering, that’s all.

Do I own my things, or do they own me…

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