I try to be the kind of person that I myself would respect. But there have been times when I failed to be that person, times I have been ashamed of myself. The worst of such moments was when I not only let another person down, but also disappointed myself. Two years ago I made my first upper school assembly announcement about an upcoming stamp convention in the city. Following the assembly I was in the student lounge and a freshman came up to me to inquire about the convention. One of my friends overheard the comment and said to the freshman, “What are you kidding me? Stamps? Don’t you know he was kidding?” Little did my friend know, but I wasn’t kidding. I am deeply passionate about my hobby. But instead of standing up for myself and for the freshman, I said, “Yeah, it was just a joke,” and walked away. The second those words came out of my mouth I felt like a coward and humiliated. I may have avoided being teased by my friends but my personal anguish was far worse—not only because I let some innocent kid get singled out and picked on, but also because I failed to realize the whole point of what collecting stamps means to me. Let me explain.

World of Stamps closes every day of the week at three and is closed on weekends, but so graciously stays open on Tuesdays until five, granting me the opportunity to have my weekly adventure. My stamp collection, which I started about five years ago, concentrates on stamps printed during, or in relation to, World War II. My excursions normally consist of looking through binders of stamps in search of an Austrian stamp with a cannon on it or an Italian stamp with Mussolini’s face. This process can take several hours—once you’re there they let you find what you need before they kick you out—so I inevitably end up meeting new people and listening to stories, which is just as valuable as collecting the stamps themselves.

Horstel, a 65-year-old German Jew who works at the store, can with his stories convince anyone of the importance of stamps. My favorite is his tale about the “stamp that saved the world.” Toward the very end of World War II, Hitler had sent out a letter that the Russians intercepted. Due to the valuable information provided by the nature of the stamp and the stamp mark, the Russians were able to begin zeroing in on Hitler, ultimately forcing him to commit suicide. After telling his story, Horstel says, “If it weren’t for stamps, either I wouldn’t be here or we would be speaking German.” And this is followed by his deep German chuckle.

Collecting stamps isn’t just about accumulating little pieces of paper. It’s about history and the stories that bind us all together. It helps to satisfy my passion for history as well as teach me to appreciate the small things in life, as those mundane details that may seem as though they are not worth a second glance are sometimes worth hours of attention. It also places me in an environment that would normally be quite foreign to me; for example, it leads me to conventions where people who don’t find my hobby pointless, like most of my friends do, can share their stories and stamps. It has become a part of my life that allows me to escape from so-called normalcy and enter a world rich with exotic places and intriguing stories.

And this is why I was upset with myself for not sticking up for the freshman or myself. Because collecting stamps is a large part of who I am, and I am proud of that part. Ultimately, collecting stamps is not so much about the stamps themselves as it as about connecting with others, especially those I wouldn’t typically gravitate toward.

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