Once upon a time, on a morning of sunshine, cool air, birdsong, and green smells, I hit the pedals biking east on the smoothly tarred Columbia Road out from my long ago hometown. After riding a strong ten or twelve miles, I crest a hill, pausing to gaze and eat a granola bar. A long drink from the water bottle and it’s time to head back toward town. A mile or so down the road, on the right, I spot a cardboard box on the gravel shoulder. Curious, I stop to check out the contents. The box, though open as if receptive to whatever is offered, stands entirely empty. My attention is arrested by a word stamped on the side of the box in two-inch high black letters. “Truth.”
I make mental note of the exact location, in relation to pond, power line, and fence post.
Later my mom and I drive east on the Columbia Road. As we travel, my mom questions my desire to retrieve a cardboard box from the side of the road.
“What’s in it?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I reply.
“I have a lot of nice boxes in the basement,” she sensibly responds.
“Yeah, but this one has truth stamped on it,” I said.
At this she gives up, accustomed as she is by years of experience with my inscrutable eccentricities.
In truth, I collect the box to photograph it.
Why am I so keen on the box?
As I had continued on my ride home, I puzzled over what might have been packed in a box marked “Truth. It occurred to me that whatever had been packed inside certainly was not truth because truth can never be put in a box. Far closer to truth was the present contents–nothing.
No-thing at all.
The great spiritual geniuses all teach emptiness–Buddha, Jesus, Isaac Luria, Meister Eckhart, Lao-Tze, Bahya Ibn Paquda–the list could go on. From these blessed ones we learn that truth doesn’t reside in things, in ideas, in anything that can be written in a book, or shaped by a pair of hands.
Truth is found in emptiness, in the spaces between the words, in the silence, in the still small voice nudging us toward the good, the realization that all is one. Since this life is full of sound and object, of apparent separation, truth can only be approximated. As I biked, what I saw and heard and smelled came as close to truth as anything on earth. The sky. Flowing water. A red-winged blackbird. A beaver lodge in middle of a pond. Nothing that can be put in a box.
Truth is peace, the peace found in the empty and still.
(Here’s a link to the actual Truth Box story: https://www.truth.com/about/history.cfm)