As I reached for the tile that was to be laid to the left of the toilet, I admit a small sound of delight escaped. By a stroke of luck, that tile would get to be placed without any cutting or fitting in its proper place. It was an easy fit – as if it had been planned, carefully planned. But it wasn’t planned at all. It was only predetermined.
It was wonderful! A delightful happenstance that could not have come out any differently once I had placed that very first tile roughly 1800 tiles earlier at the front corner of the sanctuary. That first tile and the tiles that followed it determined the pattern that all of the other tiles were to follow. The shape and size of the room dictated how many would go in each direction.
The bathroom is connected to the main room, so the placement of the tiles in it is simply a continuation of the pattern. The bathroom fixtures were already in place, so, they too, were simply fixed players in the predetermined geometry. The placement of this whole tile was a consequence of many factors that were too numerous for me to care about or consider. Measuring and planning would have taken far more effort than cutting and fitting the one tile.
Nevertheless, I was pleased that the tile could be placed ever so simply, as if it had been an intentional plan all along.
And then, I noticed the tile next to it – well, the space for the tile next to it. And then I laughed out loud. It would be a challenging cut and fit.
And that, too, was happenstance and predetermined by all the same factors as the one tile I was so happy to be able to place so simply. That realization is what lead to taking the photos that I knew would lead to writing this blog. That was the profound life lesson so clearly demonstrated by a quiet afternoon laying tile in a Temple bathroom……
So much of what we experience is the way it is because of so many other decisions made long ago. Some of those decisions were made by others, some were made by us, some were random, some were not. And then we experience the moment: one tile is easy and quick to lay; one tile requires extensive fitting and cutting. Somethings are within our control, most are not. Somethings may be within our control and not worth the time and effort to control; other things are well worth the time and effort.
So let’s look at this crazy example. It is simple – and not.
What led to this point: Someone put a building here, with these dimensions. Others modified this building over time in various ways, coming to the exact configuration of the building which we now rent as our California campus. A wonderfully generous member donated the tiles that she selected (with board agreement on style and color) and that I, our members, and our youth are laying. Obviously, those tiles are a certain size.
The decision, after a bit of time and multiple trial placements (without gluing), was to place them diagonally, knowing this would lead to more cutting along the walls. I made the decision to start in the far left corner of the sanctuary and placed the first tile. It might appear that the tile placement and everything that came before it was the last of the random decisions. In some ways that is true.
However, there was at least one more decision that was made that led to the “toilet tiles,” which was that we would continue the tiles straight into the restroom directly off the sanctuary with no change of tile and no break. That decision was also part of the chain.
With all of the decisions made, the only other thing was the tile to tile decision to continue working and laying tile. That process involved members, youth, and my own decision to step into the restroom and tackle that space. Oh, there were some other decisions – like not to remove the restroom fixtures to place the tile. In some ways doing that would have made the laying of the tiles easier, but the job much bigger. Since we were not changing the fixtures, we decided not to do that. Instead, we will store some of the tiles in case down the road, new fixtures do not match the current footprint perfectly and new tiles are needed. If that becomes the case, we will be glad for the decision to store the extra tiles – providing we know where they are when they are needed.
So those are the decisions leading up to the realization that we need to cut this funky placement tile. Now, there is at least one more decision, even beyond the choice of technique used to cut the tile. That decision is perhaps one of the most important decisions we can make at this point of “not much control over what presents.” That decision is how we act and react.
In my case, the reaction was laughter at myself and the humor I saw in the irony of the situation. I had congratulated myself on the great luck of the first tile. Now I could congratulate myself on the opportunity to sharpen my tile cutting and shaping skills.
Which, as such things always do, reminds me of the old engineering days at Goodyear. The culture there at the time was that there were never problems, there were only opportunities. Managers would come to your desk and say, “I have an opportunity for you …..” and you knew that your day had suddenly taken a entirely new turn. We sometimes used the word opportunity with a dash or three of sarcasm. And now, a bit wiser (I hope), I get it, that such things really ARE opportunities.
What such things or times or challenges are or are not is not so much about what they are as about who and what we are.
So I cut the tile, shaped it, checked it, trimmed it, checked it, trimmed it, checked it, placed it, nudged it, and it was seated.
As I do the specialty cutting, I am finding that I am enjoying that process. I do cut an occasional tile wrong or poorly along the way, but not many. So far I have been lucky. I have been able to use the “failed” tiles in a different location, where a smaller tile section is needed. So the process is moving along at a pace that is slower than I might want, but as it apparently needs to be.
May the lessons we learn as we lay our own “tiles of life” be sweet and may we learn them with joy and laughter.
Thanks for reading.