I have written many times, over the years, about Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the Third Place., informal public gathering areas that offer comfort, camaraderie, and emotional safety.
The Brookings Institute says this about third Places:
Urban planners seeking to stabilize neighborhoods are focusing on the critical role that “third places” can play in strengthening our sense of community. Third places is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and refers to places where people spend time between home (‘first’ place) and work (‘second’ place). They are locations where we exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships.
Once again, the idea of a third place is on my mind. An example of a welcoming, comfortable, and comforting third place is the fictional bar room in the old television comedy series, Cheers. In years past, my wannabe third places have ranged from libraries to a local Flying Saucer “beer emporium” to a former neighbor’s professionally-equipped wood shop. More recently, my Unitarian Universalist church has served, on and off, as a wannabe third place of sorts, but only on the rare occasions when it is open and alive with people and genuinely welcoming . I have never felt that any place has fully met my desires and expectations of a third place. It occurs to me, as I mull this over in my mind, that no one is assured of access to a third place—not that a person might be excluded from one, but that he might not find all the attributes of what would constitute a third place in any one location.
For me, a third place would be a place where I would feel absolutely comfortable to be myself, without worry that I might be judged as too serious or too silly or not sufficiently intelligent or intellectually arrogant or…on and on. And it would be available to me, if not around the clock, at least from morning until night. And the people there would be genuinely friendly and caring. And I would not have to pay for the privilege of being there. The bar room in Cheers is, I suppose, is the model for my imaginary third place. I have, over the years, thought about and talked about creating such a place, but I haven’t taken any action to bring it about. Except in my fiction, in my mind. My Fourth Estate Tavern, situated in a fictional financially depressed town in Arkansas, has all the trappings of a third place. I would love to replicate, in the real world, the Fourth Estate Tavern. It’s not just the place, by the way. It’s the people in the place, too, in symbiotic relationships with one another and with the place itself. The place has to be right, but without the right people, it cannot be a functioning third place. Similarly, all the right people might mingle in one place, but if it’s not the right place, it cannot be a functioning third place. Hmm.
Yesterday afternoon, my third place came into sharp focus for me. Mi novia and a close friend and I spend part of the afternoon in conversation, sitting in a comfortable setting, having a drink, and exploring whatever happened to be on our minds. The fact that we were in my house, not a public place, detracted from the concept of third place. And the fact that our gathering required intention (it did not organically flow from…just showing up) did not mirror my vision of a third place. But, still…it felt like a third place. It felt a little like my imaginary time, engaging in wide-ranging conversations with a diverse group of people, at the Fourth Estate Tavern.
Today is Mother’s Day. Like several other holidays, I am not especially enamored of Mother’s Day. I am extremely grateful for the love and influence of mothers, but the expected formal appreciation emerging from the holiday strikes me as artificial and unnecessary. I suppose some people need to be reminded of the importance of mothers; I do not. And I suppose some children need to be reminded to express their appreciation to their (and all) mothers. I am forever grateful to my mother; no reminder needed. Like Valentine’s Day, I tend to steer clear of “celebrating” the day, in part because it has become so clearly commercial and so intrinsically hollow. Yet I always made it a point to send my mother cards or flowers or otherwise express my formal appreciation for her. Whether she expected it or not, I wanted to be sure my disdain for the practice of celebrating it did not conflict with my mother’s experience of the day. Maybe I simply did not have the courage of my convictions. I hope it wasn’t that. I may never know, without intense, long-term therapy and counseling. 🙂
Certain painful emotions seem to linger forever. Maybe they can be overcome, though, with the help of a professional. Someone who can assist the sufferer by guiding a psychological scalpel to excise the mental malignancy that is bound to the person’s mind. That could be incredibly freeing. But a “psychiatric surgeon” sounds dangerous; if she cuts the wrong emotional tissue, everything could go horribly awry. More hmmm.
I am staying home from church today, though I want to see and hear a friend read poetry…but the theme for the day echoes the day itself: Mother’s Day. Whether I watch the event online remains to be seen. I wonder whether I sometimes take myself too seriously. There is no question about it; no need to wonder.
While I skip church, I will relax and allow the day to unfold around me. And I will consider where, if anywhere, I belong. It’s those deep, mind-altering questions, that can make or break a third place.
EDIT: I just listened to and watched part of the UUVC service. My friend Patty’s reading was extraordinary. I may look again at my attitudes about Mother’s Day.
’twas moving, indeed, Meg.
it was a moving service. Glad I was where I could wipe away the tears.