Throughout most of my younger years, I was a collector of junk. I enjoyed scouring alleyways for almost anything that caught my eye. I remember finding a collapsible radio antenna one fine morning and keeping it with me as a treasure and sort of toy, for several weeks to come.
Alleyways and Dumpsters
I’d look at the less examined parts of the backsides of grocery stores somewhat frequently for the benefit of collecting what may have been lost or simply thrown away as junk. I was not the slightest bit above tossing back the lid of the dumpster at Maloley’s Grocery on Rudisill Street and climbing fully in for a good look. I could root around in a dumpster for the better part of an hour or so before getting bored. And I rarely came away without having found something of great value to me — a partial roll of wax paper, for instance, or a plastic baggie with smashed stuff in it. I once found a perfectly good butcher knife in there, which I brought back out into the alley and hid in a particular hiding place for items that I suspected would be taken away from me if they were found by my parents.
Grandma’s House (and the parking lot)
In addition to the alleys around my own neighborhood, I had the opportunity to spend some summer days at my grandma’s house on Huestis Avenue. The benefits here were manifold. She had an unused parking lot immediately behind her house that held many a fine jewel. Here I could find any number of interestingly shaped and colored glass bottles — many of them broken but interesting all the same. I found a wealth of cigarette butts, cigar mouthpieces and playing cards — I suppose the lot was populated more at night as I never saw anyone on it during the day.
The brokenness of the lot itself was attractive to me. It was so decrepit and untended that the concrete was coming up in many places — the resultant gravel making fine throwing projectiles. There were a great number of cracks through the concrete and across the lot through which many kinds of weeds and grasses struggled up and out of. I remember finding a syringe here occasionally and, at first finding them so remarkably gripping, I brought one to my grandma for some insight. She didn’t tell me much other than that if I touched any more syringes, there’d be trouble. As I’d seen my grandma give her own dog the business end of a rolled up newspaper on occasion, I realized that I oughtn’t to share so much with her anymore.
Our Energy Systems
I was reminded of these years and those interests several days ago while I walked across the parking lot of another, finer grocery store. Though there weren’t any broken bottles or syringes on the lot, I did see the cigarette butts blown into corners and up against the curb which had also restrained the empty container of one of the one-ounce energy shot drinks. I see these shots, now, sold at every gas station and most supermarkets — always promising a number of wonderful hours of energy without the crash that may accompany the buzz from a mocha chino or whatever other energy system we subscribe to.
While I don’t believe there is anything innately wrong with these or other energy fixations, I find it remarkable that the spent containers of most all of our fixes end up kicked to the curb. It’s at the curb and in the empty parking lots and alleyways that we find evidence of our interests as a people. We don’t find church bulletins blowing down the alley; we find Styrofoam coffee cups. It’s not little plastic communion cups that are swirling in the wind of the parking lot; it’s cigarette butts. Beer cans are what we find strewn behind the building, not memory verses. We don’t find thermometers or shoe inserts; we find the wrappings or carriers of those items that we aren’t able to do without until we get home. These are the items from which we seek to get a fix at a moment’s notice. This is why we don’t find Bible wrappers behind the grocery store.
Looking at Our Trash
My pastor has made the point a few times before that if we want to know more about our relationship with the Lord, we can look at the entries in our checkbook. This is very true. I’d say also that if we want to know, if even only a miniscule amount more, about the spiritual condition of a people, we can examine their parking lots and alleyways. We can be sure that the fix that came out of the wrappers that make up the largest percentage of trash in any given lot is indicative of the importance of that fix to that people. I’m very well aware, by the way, that this is a peculiar indicator which, upon further inspection, might come apart and be found un-useful. Until that time, though, spend some time in your own dumpster; examine your own junk and ask yourself what your wrappers and throw-aways are saying about you and your interests. Look at the trash in the parking lots and ponder its significance. Consider our interests as a people and your relationship with these interests and these people. Further understanding and, indeed, a sense of unity can come from further consideration of the plight of all mankind, as spoken of in our junk.