Relishing the beauty of junk

To quote from a great Charles Dickens novel, “It was best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

So opens “A Tale of Two Cities,” released back in 1859. Lots of big words in his books, words not often used in today’s social media. OK, “epoch” is old school, but sometimes I wonder if many people even understand the meaning of the word “wisdom” today. We all seem to know foolishness, too often turning it into life’s No. 1 priority. “Belief” is still part of conversations, but often in promoting things like “Believe in something bigger…the Powerball Lottery.”

Dickens was the rock star of his day and, in an age without television, Facebook, Twitter or SnapChat, his stories connected with everyday people. He also filled auditoriums with his live readings and lectures, in a time without electronic amplification.

Most Americans think only of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” not knowing any of his many other important works. He was a sharp critic of the deplorable conditions in the 19th century world, a social commentator before it was cool and such things became non-stop in modern-day media.

Even with such colorful written portraits of his unforgettable characters, Charles Dickens didn’t just write for the sake of writing. He wanted his readers to see things differently, to be tuned in to the needs of others—eventually rising to seeing things from a higher (yes, even God-inspired) standard, with new perspective.

As we hit the holiday season full-speed, I think it’s a good idea to think more deeply about such contrasts in life. More importantly, this is a perfect time to embrace a fresh concept of thanksgiving.

It would be easy to write a typical seasonal article here about counting our blessings and needing an “attitude of gratitude.” Of course that’s essential, and none of us every really does that 100 percent of the time. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

And I’m deeply grateful for so many things in life. For example, I’m glad that about a year from now the presidential election will be over. And maybe the Padres will get to the baseball playoffs. And then there’s the Chargers.

I’m thankful to wake up and breathe to take on another day, each day. I love my family, faith and friends. I’m blessed to live in the greatest nation on Earth, filled with liberty and personal freedom. It’s not perfect, but find me a better place on the planet. There isn’t one.

Each day is also jam-packed with so many little things to be enjoyed, even though often they’re taken for granted.

But I am especially thankful this year for… (wait for it!)… the JUNK in life.

Junk? Are you serious, Mark?!?!?

Indeed I am. Dickens wrote beautifully about the discards, the garbage and pain and misery in life. It wasn’t only to make for a compelling story, but to cause a shift in how his readers thought. He wanted people to sense the needs around them, in their own neighborhoods, becoming driven to do things differently.

My friend Richard loves junk, too. We always laugh about how he gathers special “treasures” on his early morning runs around town.

You have to know he’s the kind of guy who starts a day with a thought like this: “Hey, I may have time to climb that mountain before breakfast.”

On most (if not all) of his multi-mile physical fitness excursions, he picks up lots of new treasures (read: junk). Scraps of this or that, parts of old furniture, odd quirks of nature, you name it. When he arrives back home he can look like the old truck on “Sanford & Son,” heavily laden with refuse, on legs. I’m just glad he keeps up with his tetanus shots.

He doesn’t see the crummy side of what he gathers, he only thinks of what he can make of it. Richard just seems to know by instinct that there’s usefulness and often great beauty in that which is dumped out by someone else.

The junk is the catalyst to restoration, renewal and new life for that which seems only refuse and the stuff of outcasts.

That’s a Dickensian message, and more importantly it’s a God message in these crazy, turbulent times.

This season and beyond, I want to be most thankful for life’s junk. And imagine the possibilities when it causes transformation to take place.

Mark Larson

— by Mark Larson

Larson is a longtime Southern California radio/television personality. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs mornings, 6-9 am on KCBQ 1170AM “The Answer.” He is also a news analyst on KUSI TV.  Learn more at

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