As a teenager I collected glass objects that were unique and interesting to me. Prisms, figures, telegraph insulators…whatever…but mostly bottles. In the end, the collection became only bottles.
The bottles were occasionally cooking oil bottles or storage jars, but most often wine and liquor bottles. As others learned of this collection they gave me bottles they thought special or interesting and in time I had a fairly large collection.
After a while, I found my collection a bit dull, especially the clear bottles, and devised a way to add more variety and color to my display. I filled many with water, adding food color in different combinations to add life to the shelves that held my collection.
Like many things we do in our youth, the collection lost its appeal. I threw my collection away when I left home, and did so without a thought. I remain fascinated by the seemingly infinite variety of shapes and sizes and colors of glass bottles that continue to find their way to my eye, but now when I see a uniquely shaped bottle I find my mind drifts to another place and another thought.
During a deeply troubled period of my life, I worked with a counselor who encouraged me to journal, to write my thoughts because that would help bring them to light and clarity.
I wrote about how I was coming to see life as a series of events and situations that teach us lessons and at the same time was accepting that life was a process of constant change and evolution. One of my challenges was letting go of the past, understanding and accepting the forces that shaped and drove me and using that understanding to evolve and change in a conscious, thoughtful manner. Another was forgiving me for mistakes or behaviors in my past that I found damaging to my self-image and behavior.
One day, I found myself writing about my collection of glass bottles.
I wrote about my bottles as a metaphor for seeing and managing my thoughts and feelings about the forces and events that shaped me. How glass bottles were a way to capture these events…each with their own unique shape and color and purpose, each holding a lesson to examine and understand. I remembered that my bottles had been empty when first seen, and how each alone, while unique, meant little but as part of a collection it contributed to something larger and complete.
I wrote that my collection had another purpose, at least for me. I am not one to take an event that matters to me, deal with and discard it. So I will always walk a tightrope where I look to my past for guidance in my future. The challenge is whether the past guides me or controls me, whether I draw from the past what is good and useful and embrace change as I go forward, or whether I allow the past to limit and control me, to provide me with a reason to not change, to remain as I was and not grow.
I painted a picture as I wrote of a bottle collection…really a bookcase full of bottles. Each bottle was an event or a behavior that shaped me, or affected a period of my life, and by bottling the topic I was defining it, containing it, learning from it, and placing it aside so I could move forward.
By placing each issue inside a unique bottle, and placing the bottle on the shelf where I can see it, I created a reference point, a way to recall the lessons from my past without carrying them with me, a way to use my past to guide my present and future. When I am uncertain or need to remember a lesson, my glass bottles let me look to the lessons of my past without being its prisoner.
I occasionally add or remove a bottle with something fresher or more powerful, yet another way the shelf guides and anchors me.
I do not have a literal collection of glass bottles today, but the figurative collection is very much alive, the shelf lined with uniquely shaped bottles, each filled with a different liquid, the collection changing steadily and constantly.
Just as I am.