Strip away the chain fast food joints, the used car dealerships, and wave after wave after wave of hideous billboards promoting the poverty of mindless consumerism.
If there’s anything left, it’s worth a look. Because what is left is the soul of a place. The tavern where locals gather to exchange stories offers a safe spot to bask in the casual comfort afforded by members of their tribe. The library, which often is simply a tavern with books, is sometimes where the literati and artists gather between drinks. And the places where tradespeople congregate to talk shop; those places grease the wheels of critical elements of community. Sometimes—often—the tavern serves this purpose; it does double duty. The old barbershop used to be the center of communication, but that has changed. Everything has changed, in fact. The places that defined the soul of a community have, in many respects, withered. They may still exist, but their days are numbered. An artificial web of slick magazines, colorful flashing billboards, and mindless trend-followers intent on proving they are on the cutting edge have replaced much of what once constituted the unique character of a place.
I’ve written about “The Third Place” on this blog many times. Ray Oldenburg—an urban sociologist who wrote the book The Great Good Place—described the first place as the home and the second place as the workplace; the third place is represented by anchors of community life that facilitate comfortable, fulfilling, and creative interactions. Bars, libraries, churches, parks, bookstores, barber shops—those are among the locations that tend to evolve into “third places.” Oldenburg coined the term “the third place;” he was the first to attach a name to the concept and to argue for its pivotal role in society at large. I have enormous regard for Oldenburg.
In years past, I’ve written about how intensely I feel about the need to deliberately create and cultivate “third places.” And, of course, I am not alone. Plenty of coffee shops and bars have adopted “third place” in their names, in the hopes of becoming community magnets toward which people gravitate for connections. They are places where people feel safe. They are places where people feel like they belong. Places where they contribute to that sense of well-being and safety.
Until COVID-19 slammed into our world, my church had become something of my third place. But I am no longer comfortable interacting with large numbers of people who interact with large numbers of other people. So that third place has in a sense disappeared. The church is still there and I’m still very much a part of it, but it’s no longer the safe haven where I can get away from the rest of the world and feel comfortable about it and the company I keep.
Third places represent the soul of a community. Collectively, they are woven into the social fabric that defines what the community is. Is the community welcoming, or it is insular and suspicious of outsiders? Does the community stitch together people of different backgrounds, colors, beliefs, and interests…or is it two-dimensional, dull and conforming?
If, as I suggested above, the “third places” that define the soul of a community are disappearing in large numbers, what will replace them? I mean, what will constitute the glue that binds communities together as cohesive units (even when those elements may be at odds with one another)? I wish I knew. The topic is one that I would like to explore if I had the resources of first-rate university library and an available cadre of enthusiastic and energetic students anxious to add to the body of knowledge about urban sociology. My gut tells me societies will continue to have “third places,” but they will in many respects morph into entities we cannot even imagine today. The idea of massive Zoom gatherings—involving people in their homes, drinks in hand, conversing with like-minded people—comes to mind. But that’s probably too low-tech and too awkward and too unintuitive to work.
Though I get excited and enthusiastic about some things, like “The Third Place,” my enthusiasm quickly wanes when I realize I am approaching the point at which I will leave my sixth decade and move into the seventh. The time necessary to develop an adequate background to pursue many of my interests probably is not available. And even if it were, getting that background should begin, in earnest, no later than one’s thirties. That realization brings about thoughts of “if only…” That’s not a healthy attitude, so instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m not 35 years old, I have to simply let my interests be shallow and superficial, rather than deep and significant.
In other news, I am sore. Very sore. My biceps ache. My lower back screams even louder today than yesterday. One of the reasons I awoke several times in the night last night involved cramps in my legs, hands, and arms…courtesy of the odd stances my body took while bending to paint or reaching too far while poised on a ladder.
Today, the flooring guys return, so I cannot do much (if anything) because I would be in their way. There are plenty of errands to run, though, so I will not be bored.
Time to think about more coffee and some breakfast. I roasted a pork loin last night, so I could take a piece or two, dice it, and incorporate it into an egg and/or a potato dish. Or I could simply eat cereal again. Or I could do something entirely different. That option is always highest on my list of things to do; I just have to be prepared to do it. Off I go. Where remains to be seen.
Debbie, I certainly agree with your perspective; time is short. Combining the nourishing comfort of time with loved ones with opportunities for personal growth can supply us with the fuel we need to keep enjoying life. Thanks for your comment, and for sharing your viewpoints.
I understand the differences in social settings. Some are naturally comfortable, and others less intimate. Finding your intimate tribe is more important to me than adding new tribe members, unless one is needing a change. Time is short. Yep, that 7th decade is but days away for me. I hope to spend quality time with people I love and yet stretch myself to explore new ideas, read to learn about other life experiences, always with an appreciation for nature. The best gift to ourselves in this last part of life, is eat right, exercise, and find joy and laughter. Life is really good most of the time.
Your attitude is admirable, Deanna, and you are right that, in wanting to be proficient in a specific area, “the only requirement is the commitment of time to achieve it.” My point is that, as I near my seventh decade, the amount of time necessary to achieve proficiency is limited; therefore, I have to be quite selective. As much as I’d love to become an expert in select areas of urban sociology, I doubt I can devote sufficient time to achieve that dream. So, I tend to skirt along on the fringes of several of my interests. Maybe I should delve deeper into even fewer. I’m in complete agreement with you: “There are never enough hours in the day for me to experience everything I wish I could.”
Thanks for your comment. It caused me to think a bit deeper, still.
I beg to differ with “The time necessary to develop an adequate background to pursue many of my interests probably is not available. And even if it were, getting that background should begin, in earnest, no later than one’s thirties. That realization brings about thoughts of “if only…” That’s not a healthy attitude, so instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m not 35 years old, I have to simply let my interests be shallow and superficial, rather than deep and significant.” Not every intellectual pursuit requires a lifetime of study! If you want to feel proficient in a given area, the only requirement is the commitment of time to achieve it. And if you’re lucky, retirement can be like a second chance at life because time becomes a gift. There are never enough hours in the day for me to experience everything I wish I could.