I wrote this piece last February, but as the first cold days come to Upstate NY, it is important to remember just how good we have it. enjoy!
This is a story about choices in bathroom remodeling… and life.
This past week marked the beginning of Lent. No matter your spiritual persuasion, most people know that Lent is the period for Christians that immediately precedes Easter.
Ask someone in New Orleans what Lent is and they’ll tell you “the end of Mardi Gras,” but that is another story entirely.
Lent possesses a great many details and traditions, but without exception the best-known Lenten practice is the “giving up” of something, for the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
In the same way details of other religious holidays have made their way into the secular world, the “giving up” is definitely Lent’s greatest cultural contribution. The observance is regularly referenced in literature, film and music, often in places where no other Lenten (or even Christian) mentions occur.
Ask the average American what first comes to mind with the mention of Lent and they will universally say, “oh, that’s like about giving up something you love, right?” As reliable as such an answer might be to a “man-on-the-street” reporter, it would be wrong, at least partially.
But, this is a story about bathroom remodeling, so let’s get to it.
After thirteen years of sharing a tiny bathroom no larger than our queen-sized bed, this past October my wife and I hired a contractor to build us a new, much larger baño.
Anyone who has been through an outsourced renovation or (God help them) a new construction project, will tell you there are a lot of decisions to make. For my wife and I, this was the first time in nearly seventeen years of marriage where we actually hired someone to build something in our house.
I have been the “contractor” in our relationship up to now, and with that distinction came most of the decision-making power. Sure, Emily would weigh-in on paint colors and other aesthetic details, but for the most part I know what she likes and she trusts me to make the best choices for our house.
So there I was sitting at our kitchen table with the contractor, hunched over the drawing of our bathroom-to-be.
Although nearly three times larger than the old one, the new bathroom was not going to be complicated. It should have been as simple as:
- Step 1 – Tear out the forty five year old yellow tile shower, matching vanity and water wasting toilet
- Step 2 – Move a wall, do a bunch of electrical and plumbing things, and make a crap-ton of drywall dust
- Step 3 – Cover the floor and walls in tile, install a double-sink vanity, a new efficient toilet, a 66-inch soaking tub, and a double-headed curbless shower with glassblock window and marble bench. Easy right?
It turns out when you hire someone to do construction in your house, they want all kinds of information I am used to making up as I go along.
So there we sat, pouring over what I thought was a comprehensive drawing. He asked questions, I gave answers and on the drawing he made all kinds of notes. Some details were mechanical, while others were more aesthetic in nature. Most of them I was able to answer without hesitation, but then he asked one that stopped me cold.
After specifying the floor should be white, Carrara marble in hexagonal tiles one-inch in diameter, the contractor asked, “do you want a heated floor?”
Yesterday morning (February 14th) it was -8° when I got out of bed. This is not unusual for western NY, so his question was a reasonable one.
The mechanical engineer in me bristles at questions like this, since the only way to heat a bathroom floor is to embed some kind of heat source under the tile. All I can see in such a scenario is the inevitable failure of said system. I could go with a warm water based system, but all water systems eventually leak, right? The other option is an electrical system (basically a heating pad for your floor) but resistance heaters have a finite life too. I was reluctant to make a significant investment in the to-be-anticipated (albeit years away) early morning proclamation of, “Steve, the floor heater isn’t working,” or worse “honey, why is there water dripping from the kitchen ceiling?”
Once the contractor informed me I had to choose between the curbless shower and the heated floor, the decision was easy to make… the floor would not be heated.
The project progressed as all renovation projects do; with steady, slower-than-expected advancement. The predictable issues arose (like two bathtubs in a row showing up damaged), but by the second week of December we were cleaning our forty-something selves in a wonderful new space.
Just after Christmas, I learned my old friend Marcus Barnes started up an organization in Detroit to help the homeless. It is called Just BE-Cause, and he is doing amazing, creative and selfless work.
Marcus did not form a 401c3, not for profit organization. He did not solicit donations. He is not independently wealthy.
He simply woke up one morning and knew he had to do something. With little more than the clothes on his back he stepped outside and became a positive force for change.
One of the misconceptions about the “giving up” of things for Lent is that it is some type of low-grade, self-imposed suffering or forced self-improvement. This is incorrect.
The purpose of giving up something for Lent is to provide a daily, disruptive reminder of what others sacrifice and endure. Specifically for Christians, this is the fact that Jesus gave his life to save our souls, but it goes farther than that.
Western society is fairly self-centered. We have all driven (in our climate-controlled car) by the homeless guy on the off-ramp and done nothing. Yes, we’ve all done it. We live comfortable lives where the toughest decision we face on a Friday night is, which of many pizza places to call to have a hot dinner delivered to our tidy home for an inconsequential amount of money?
It’s tough thing to admit, but we are soft.
As friends and neighbors came over to see our new bathroom, several asked if we had opted for heated floors, and when we answered that we hadn’t, they shook their heads politely stating they thought we’d made a bad call there. The common statement being something like, “I couldn’t live without my heated bathroom floor.”
As I said… soft.
Every morning as I place my feet on the cold tile floor of my beautiful new bathroom, I am reminded of Marcus removing his pants on the street to give his long-johns to a homeless man. The discomfort doesn’t last long, as moments later I am enveloped in hot water by the light of the sun rising through the shower window, but it still gets me every time.
Much like that thing we give up for Lent should be a daily reminder of the world around us for forty-days every spring, my cold tile floor does the same for me every morning – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.