Special Places

I’ve just heard about truth-spots; I didn’t know they actually had names -or, rather, I think I’ve been calling them something else. It’s hard to keep up with modern neologisms, but nonetheless it’s nice to be able to stop calling them my ‘special places’ for a change -although I suppose my ‘truth-spots’ is scarcely less self-aggrandizing is it?

Anyway, I first came across the name in an essay by Thomas Gieryn, a sociologist at Indiana University Bloomington entitled ‘Truth is also a place’: historically, truth lived in holy places. https://aeon.co/essays/labs-courts-and-altars-are-also-traveling-truth-spots

As he says, ‘Some places make people believe… Ordinarily, truth-spots stay put over time, and those who seek believable knowledge must travel to them – not the other way around…  Two millennia ago, the journey to the Oracle at Delphi was a long and tough slog through the mountains, and there were no short cuts. The Temple of Apollo stayed put and its enduring location on remote Parnassus contributed to the oracle’s mystique as the provenance of credible prophecy.’ Things have changed, though, and there are now, apparently, travelling spots. Mine, however, have clung to the old historical ways.

When I was quite young, the first special place -sorry, truth-spot– where I travelled pretty well daily to experience sincerity, was the dog house my father had built and nailed to the fence in our back yard. I’m not sure that Boots, my semi-cocker spaniel, was himself in possession of a particularly accurate edition of the Truth, but at any rate he seemed to agree with my version of it. And, unless he was suddenly overcome by the need to minister to the needs of one of the fleas for which he ran an orphanage, he was always a good listener. He would demonstrate his empathy by licking my face whenever I seemed overcome by emotion or stopped petting him. Boots taught me a lot about keeping things in perspective -I got a lot of perks by being a human… and he was one of them.

One of those perks I imagine he would have disagreed with me about though, was the bath I was forced to have each evening –‘to get rid of the day’s germs’ as my mother would say as she pointed to the tub. But, unlike Boots, I loved to soak in the bath with only my nose and eyes above the water, and think about what I’d done that day to capture the germs. Every patch of dirt on my arms and face had a story, and usually a lesson that I reviewed in minute detail until an irritable knock on the door told me to hurry up. But the bath was the place that helped me to consolidate what I had learned in the hours since breakfast: truth. Well, knowledge and experience can contribute to Truth can they not? The tub could be every bit as much of a ‘truth-spot’ as a church or a court of law for a child like me who’d just spent time in the dog house.

Oh, and then there was the special drawer, the one in the kitchen where my mother stored everything she might need someday but for which she hadn’t yet found a use. I, however, could invent a thousand applications: silver Christmas tree hooks to hang clothes from in my closet, little tinkling bells I could put on Boots, and string to tie bits of cloth to make sock-flags to hang out the window… the possibilities were endless. And it was obviously a magic drawer too, because each night when I was asleep it snuck around gathering it all up and putting it back somewhere else I wouldn’t find for days. But what that drawer contributed to the fulfillment of my curiosity and inventiveness was an important step on life’s journey for an inquisitive mind, I think. I mean, who knows how my years would have unfolded had I not had to opportunity to air my dirty socks out of the window on a pole so I could sleep at night without having to disappear under the covers? Science started like that.

And yet, when I think about it some more, I wonder if I misunderstood the thrust of Gieryn’s essay on special places. Had I really discovered truth-spots, or had I merely assumed their status based on my needs at the time? As he suggested, ‘These days, we build tailor-made places where diverse judgments about different kinds of realities get settled: churches and other sacred spaces for sustaining transcendental verities; laboratories for making scientific claims about the natural world; courthouses for deciding the facts of a case. Such specialised ‘truth-spots’ lend credibility to beliefs or claims that come from there. They are not merely settings where decisions about beliefs and propositions just happen to be made. Rather, through their outward materiality, their geographic location and the stories we share about them, these places contribute actively and vitally to the making of truth.’

But, that said, don’t we all find so-called ‘truth-spots’, scattered in time and space throughout our lives? Places not only special, but sacred in a way that has meaning, if only for us? Yes, I found the Taj Mahal one of those places -as did millions of others no doubt- but so too, do I find sunsets, however evanescent, sacred. Perhaps especially so, because a sunset seems to elicit awe only in those open to it; it is therefore more than simply special: it is special to me, and it’s as if it happened only because I noticed it…

It’s the same as being deep in a forest when the wind rushes excitedly through the leaves and lets me watch its path as it travels overhead, lets me hear the excited hiss of the cedar boughs as they bend to let it through, and lets me understand that even birdsong pauses in respect until it passes. It is a sacred space that includes me in the ritual. If that’s not a truth-spot, then neither is a church, or a court. When I am a part of the message, when I am included in the ritual, then I am in a truth-spot, no matter if I am the only one who knows its name…

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1 thought on “Special Places

  1. That’s a thought which will stay with me today, i hope. Even at home there is probably a truth spot…

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