Dead Center

The old, balding carpenter looked up at me from his kneeling position, and just shook his head.  It was not an encouraging moment.

“From the back corner of the room to this wall right here, the floor drops nearly four inches!  How are we supposed to get a level surface for a bathtub to sit on?”

I had to do some fast talking to keep him on the job.  We really needed a new bathroom upstairs in that old house.  The three-quarter bath downstairs was a long way from the bedroom in the middle of the night!  Our young children needed something closer.  So did their father.  No. We had to figure out a way.

A week later, the old fellow was back on his knees laying out two-by-fours on that floor and marking them to be cut diagonally lengthwise.  As the boards were cut and returned to their respective positions, I saw that at the lowest place in the floor, they were the full three and a half inches tall.  At the other end, only seven feet away, the same boards were trimmed down to just a tiny thickness, perhaps an eight of an inch.  It looked like a cobbled up mess to me. 

I didn’t see how this would ever give us the result we needed, and said so.

“This is nuts!  I want a level floor, not these ugly wedge-shaped two-by-fours.  This is going to be awful.”

The craftsman looked up at me from his place on the floor, with a sad smile.

“You’ve got no faith in humanity, Paul.  Give me time.  You’ll see.”

I didn’t have long to wait.  Within a day, the plywood was cut to fit the room and was screwed down over those ugly, cut boards which had been firmly anchored to the old tilted floor.  I walked on it over to where my friend sat on the floor once again, this time to check the four foot long level he had brought up with him.

He allowed himself the barest of proud smiles as he pointed to the liquid filled tube in the center of the big straightedge.  Dead center, the little bubble floated in plain view.

Dead center!

Just a couple of days before, that same bubble couldn’t be seen, as it scurried to the back end of the tube when the apparatus was placed on the floor.  I had had to walk uphill to get from one end of the room to the other.  Now, no matter where he set the level, the result was the same.

Dead centerLevel.

When the tub and toilet were placed in their respective positions, the water levels proved the accuracy of the little bubble in that level.  As long as we lived in that old Victorian house, I was amazed when I remembered what was hidden just under the surface of the floor we walked upon in that room.

I had seen the email when I first sat at my desk this morning.  I just wasn’t ready to deal with the issue right then.  I guess I should have said that I had seen the emails, plural.  She had written two of them.

She wasn’t happy.

A problem with a transaction she had completed online made her whole world off kilter.  She didn’t want me to fix it, she wanted to pick up her marbles and play in a different game.  She was sure that the playing field was tilted in my favor and she wanted out!

I missed her first phone call while I was unlocking the door to my business.  For a wonder, I had actually drafted and sent a reply–a calm one–to her notes before she called again.  I had apologized for the problem and offered a solution which I was pretty sure she would accept.  But, when I pressed send on the email, I still was unsure of the outcome.

Her phone call came within minutes.  The tone of her voice told me that she wasn’t happy with my solution.  Apparently, it looked a lot like that bathroom floor had looked to me when the old carpenter started to make amends, all those years ago.  The cobbled up mess didn’t inspire trust.  I could see that I needed to complete the project–and quickly!

We talked.  I listened.  She listened.  She understood that we were going to make the playing field level again.  The marbles in the game would roll true and straight once more.  I apologized one more time and it was done.

I hung up the phone with a sigh of relief and allowed myself the barest of proud smiles.

Dead center.

I sometimes think the whole world has shifted from its axis just a bit and has become unlevel.  Children take knives and guns to school and attack people they don’t even know.  Friends shout angrily at friends as sides are chosen on issues and the distance grows between them, a gulf seemingly unspannable.  The gender gap and the generation gap widen, as does the gap between races.  Power flows from one group to another, always following the shifting landscape.

Sometimes, hope seems lost to bring the whole affair back to level.  We’ll never see the bubble in the middle of the tube again–never.

I wonder though. 

I’ve got some two-by-fours in my hands that just might level the room I’m in.  Maybe I could start here.  Perhaps, you could work on the room you’re in.  I think that we might just be able to work our way through the house, one room at a time.

You see, the great victory that old carpenter won in the old house was just one room.  One room with an unlevel floor in a house full of rooms with unlevel floors.  But he achieved that task and completed the one room.  Others since him have done the same thing, in the kitchen and the laundry room.  We don’t live there anymore, but someone may be working on one as I write this.

I’m no Atlas.  I’m pretty sure I know no one who is.  Not one of us has the power to shift the whole world at once.  But then, we weren’t called to do that, were we?

We are–every one of us–builders.  The Apostle spoke of being a master builder and that those who followed must be very careful how they build on the foundation that has already been laid down.

I want someday to be able to check my work and find it acceptable and thorough.  I trust that the level, when placed against the results of my labor, will show the craftsmanship I’m working to achieve.

How about it?  It would be really nice if, when the floor I’m working on reaches the one at which you have labored, we can put down the level to check the result together.

Dead center?

Time will tell.

“I know I ask perfection of a quite imperfect world
And I’m fool enough to think that’s what I’ll find.”
(from I Need to be in Love by The Carpenters ~ Carpenter/Bettis)

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should build with care.”
(I Corinthians 3:10 ~ NIV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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