Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, and continuing through Friday, I will be attending the nearby Brimfield Antiques Show which is an event that has been going on for over fifty years and draws attendees from throughout the country and even outside the country. I became “hooked” on “Brimfield” decades ago and my attendance at the thrice a year, May, July, and September, occasion is always fixed on my calendar.
As I was putting matters in order over the weekend so I would be ready for the week, I mused on what there is about this event that it is so central to my year, year after year, decade after decade. I do have an abiding interest in antiques and artifacts and collect and trade in them and Brimfield is an opportune venue for that activity, but this occasion is much larger for me than just a matter of merchandising. It has a ritualized aspect to it.
Brimfield creates its own setting, with a distinct population, protocols and routines. It is something of an institution. I am mindful that there are people I connect with there only these three times a year. I call them my “Brimfield friends” many of whom I have known so long I feel we have relationship status with each other even though the contact is so limited. I have at least by proxy watched their children grow, been privy to their romantic interests, been made current on job changes or promotions, learned of additions or losses to their families, been informed of new business endeavors or retirements, caught up on new houses bought and old ones sold, and other such details which are the vocabulary of life. Sadly over the years, too, especially after the span from September to May, I learn of persons who have died. Thus, even as I move about interacting with those who have returned, I recall experiences and moments with those who are no longer there.
As an instance, I started parking many years ago in a lot that a woman ran in her front yard. She would stand by the street, a flag in one hand and a baby in the other. She used to say the proceeds from parking were going to her children’s college fund. Those children, two girls, are now long out of college and on their own. The connection became enduring. No matter how many months would pass between visits, this woman would call me by name.
In recent years that woman’s mother would help guide cars onto the lawn or take the parking fee, and I would chat with her a bit as I assembled myself by the roadway. The last year before Covid when I pulled in in May after the long lapse, I asked where her mother was and the daughter said to me she lost her over the winter. Now that woman of such a long-standing association has sold her house and the lot is no longer, at least not as it always had been, but as with so much of this sort of thing, the memories have a place in the overall context.
I am mindful as I write this that my “Brimfield world” is largely unknown to those of you who may be reading these words. Pakachoag Church and Brimfield Antiques Show comprise two different realms, distinct and unrelated to each other, save for me each is a part of the pulse of my life.
An aid that can help disclose the degree of relationship between two or more disparate contexts is a Venn diagram. This device represents each collective, whether it be a population, a culture, a body, or a statistical set, for example, by a discrete circle. Such circles are then superimposed upon each other to illustrate what characteristics or components each circle shares with another. The more factors each group shares, the larger portion of each circle overlaps and is encompassed within the other.
Pakachoag Church and the Brimfield Antiques Show would overlap very little in a Venn diagram. The two would have me in common, and possibly with some probing, it might come to light that others in one population or the other have had some crossover interaction. As I disclose my experiences of one to the other, however, such as I am doing in this message, that overlap widens, and importantly, with the increased measure of commonality comes increased awareness of the one of the other. Furthermore, with knowledge comes greater levels of understanding and appreciation for that which is not otherwise a part of our experience. As a case in point, I have officiated at two funerals for folks in this other world who came to know I function in another role, namely minister, and asked me to bring experiences from the one realm into the other.
I am mindful that my life encompasses many circles of association. My position is that it is important to provide for and encompass the diversity and differences I find in those circles. When I engage the other, even if that person’s beliefs or perceptions at first seem strange or alien, that is outside my previous experience, my world becomes less narrow. Conversely, when I close myself off from the other or when I dismiss “the different” because it is different, my life is diminished. Each new encounter, each unknown person or culture or group we come upon in life presents opportunity to learn about and enlarge upon our understanding of the complex nature of the human experience and increase the measure of overlap between disparate groups. The benefit of increased awareness is a less hostile, less restrictive, and more embracing social order.
The opposite of a Venn diagram with its myriad overlapping circles is a series of silos, inside which each person or group exists in an isolated manner, detached from other circles. Silos establish bunkers in which people dwell isolated and remote from that which may be different or unknown. Silos are populated by persons unwilling to engage or consider ideas, concepts, habits or practices that are other than their own. A siloed social order is one dominated by apprehension and wariness, what we today identify as partisanship and tribalism. A siloed social order is one inhabited by persons defensive of their own standing and who hold strongly to positions and attitudes that focus on differences rather than commonalties.
The world as I understand it is made up of a palette of many colors and not one hue. The world is made up of overlapping and intersecting circles, a great and encompassing Venn diagram, and not isolated silos. To use another analogy, an alphabet of only one or a few letters is restricted in the number of words that can be derived from it, whereas an alphabet of many letters or characters can generate an endless number of words. The same is true for ideas and experiences which best flourish and generate opportunity for all in an environment of diversity and mutual accommodation and understanding.
July 11, 2022