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Getting unstuck in sticky situations

My wife Sandy felt stuck in a sticky situation. Married to an avid stamp collector, she consented to join me at the Washington 2006 World Philatelic Exhibition, kicked off on Memorial Day weekend. Every decade the American Philatelic Society sponsors a world philatelic exhibition under the patronage of the Federation internationale de Philatelie. This event ranks as the Super Bowl of stamp collecting.Reminding Sandy that she promised at the marriage altar to stick with me “for better or worse,” I invited her join me at a host of seminars. One in particular, “Detecting Re-gummed and Re-perforated Stamps” caught my attention. Fakers wanting to make a quick buck learn how to re-gum rare stamps that have lost their adhesive on the back. Stamps minus their gum are of less value than counterparts with pristine mucilage. Other philatelic counterfeiters outfit stamps with new perforations. Early in the 20th century, our government had fits because sheets of stamps split too easily, or the stamps tore when separated. Government printers tried different spacing between the teeth surrounding stamps. Certain spacing is rare. Clever criminals take a cheaper stamp and re-cut it with costly perforations.My wife attended this seminar on how to detect such tampering with stamps. She stayed in the back of a hall at Washington’s snazzy Convention Center. Bored, she began describing in her journal philatelists in the hall, portly men with baldpates and thick coke-bottle glasses going bonkers over re-perfed and re-gummed stamps.Ecstasy over collecting swept the hall. My wife found philatelists somewhat odd-looking enthusiasts who use stamp collecting as an antidote for anxiety. They lick fear by spotting fake mucilage on the back of stamps or detecting doctored perforations. Sandy discovered how stamp collecting quelled anxiety for a president who led our nation when citizens feared the worst. Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped our nation cope with disillusionment during the Great Depression. He lifted spirits when the day of infamy at Pearl Harbor left a sizeable portion of our Pacific Fleet in ruinous deathly flames. Like the seer who bolstered early Christians attacked by Roman emperors, FDR calmed citizens, saying, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (Revelation 2:10).When Roosevelt dealt with anxious days, he often asked his staff to leave him be. He then opened a bottom desk drawer where he carefully stored his precious stamp collection. He would work for hours placing stamps in albums, at the same time mulling over options on how to rescue our nation from sticky situations. Before winning the presidential election in 1932, Roosevelt decided to concentrate on Central and South American stamps. He kept escalating costs down by limiting what stamps he collected. As president, FDR put more and more stamps from a myriad of countries at his fingertips. He learned the State Department discarded envelopes bearing stamps of the world. So he requested employees to carefully snip stamps off envelopes and deliver them to his office every Saturday. When traveling, the president mounted these stamps in his albums with hinges, lightly gummed translucent bits of waxy paper. With tongs the uninitiated call “tweezers” FDR folded a hinge. He wet a portion, using tongs to place it on the stamp’s backside. The other portion he licked, pressing a stamp to the album’s page. True philatelists, like culinary masters who eat Chinese food only with chopsticks, never touch stamps, lest body oil on fingers destroys their virgin condition.On December 9, 1941, a few days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt assured the nation in a Fireside Chat this menace would not prevail. Finishing the speech over radio, FDR let his staff contemplate a bleak future. He would not join them, getting unhinged. Nor would he get stuck on perils ahead. FDR sat alone at his desk in the Oval Office, puffing on a cigarette as he sorted stamps and mounted them in his albums. During his Fireside Chats, Roosevelt built a deep and rich camaraderie with listeners. They wrote him, asking personal favors. John Randolph from Philadelphia penned a request, asking to meet FDR in the White House so he could see the president’s stamp collection.How does stamp collecting help collectors stick it to fear? Philatelists rehearse heroic stories from people that stamps commemorate. We are never really living in the worst of times. Heroes and heroines stamps honor persevered when hope flagged among the masses. Stamps also teach us that harrowing times can be checkmated when we cultivate perspective. The race is not to the hare but to the turtle. Move forward inch by inch. Measure progress not by how far a destination lies ahead but by your advance since departure. Those who aren’t fearful exude such confidence. Moreover, philately teaches collectors to master geography. Because FDR collected stamps, he knew what cultures could be changed by Yankee ingenuity and what lands would not tolerate Uncle Sam’s democratic thrusts. He took time to built coalitions when impatient critics wanted him to act like an imperialistic cowboy who would stick American might to enemies.Roosevelt awoke with a headache on April 12, 1945. After responding to mail, he sorted through some stamps, adding to his collection. He took a call from Washington, approving the design of the forthcoming United Nations stamp. While an artist sketched his portrait, FDR reviewed government reports. Suddenly, he groaned, pressing a hand to his temple. Then he slumped backward and shortly died. In life and death, stamps helped him stamp out fear. Spotting re-gummed and re-perfed stamps has enormous advantages that leap beyond an album’s page. Chill feverish anxiety, as did FDR, by collecting stamps that help stamp out fears. The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado


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