Philosophy

The Road Tile Dilemma

At 3:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday you’d find me in the same place: room MT406 at Ronald Reagan High School. 

If you took a look inside that classroom you’d see a few things: some big black desks, about 15 tired high school seniors, and a tall teacher who is genuinely interested in what he teaches. You’d also see me sitting at the first desk of the fifth row. Depending on the topic of the day, I’d be either sleeping or perched at the edge of my desk listening intently. On one particular day last fall, I looked down at my right shoe whilst sitting in MT406 and it was untied. 

So I tied it.

About 15 minutes later, as I am throwing out a piece of old gum, I look down and my shoe is untied. 

So I tied it, again. 

This time I tied that shoelace with a double knot. Yep, I meant business. I proceeded to take notes on the rest of the lesson until the dismissal bell rang at 4:15. I’m rounding the corner by the stairs at about 4:16 when once again, I look down, and my shoelace has unraveled. At this point, I figured something was telling me to slow the heck down and not get to my car so quickly. So, I did. I stopped on a bench outside and called a friend for a while until I felt comfortable enough to drive home.

Perhaps something was trying to stop me from going to my car.

As I drove out of Ronald Reagan High School, still distracted from the physics-defying shoelace incident, I went a little too far out into the intersection and ran over a yellow road tile.

Normally I would have driven away, but something told me to pick up the tile. Perhaps it was the same something that kept unraveling my shoelaces. Perhaps it was nothing. Nonetheless, I swiped the tile off the road before anyone noticed its absence.

As soon as I got home, I brought it into my room for examination. The top of it was smooth and bright yellow. It felt like a smooth film you’d find on a frying pan. The bottom was rough and durable with a tiny bit of pavement still stuck to it. It was beautiful.

That tile made me think about a few things:

1. Beauty is everywhere.

2. It’s the little things in life.

3. Where did it come from?

Those little yellow tiles stand out against the black tar of the road. While engineers designed our roads with safety as their primary objective, they also act as artists. With splashes of color against a dark canvas and gleaming dots of reflection on dull roads, the unintentional beauty in functionality is something to be noted. The shoelace incident occurred in a physics class, and coincidently, there was so much physics condensed in that little tile. From the angle of the edges and the height of its sides, engineers designed it with caution and consideration. From every human who walks on the street above to the orderly cars on the symmetrical subway tracks below New York City, beauty is everywhere, but only if you choose to look for it.

It’s easy to get caught up in the big things. We speak of traveling, of seeing the beauty and wonders of the world, but little do we realize there is wonder exactly where we are. That little street tile was a sight to behold. If I step out in my backyard, green ferns blow against a bright blue sky as the sun shines down and warms my face. Sure, the Grand Canyon is unforgettable, but so are the sunsets on the bench outside my neighborhood. 

Appreciating the small things makes the grand ones even more special.

Somewhere in America or Mexico or Canada stands a factory filled with tiny yellow road tiles manufactured by men and women and machines and managers. Each of those humans has stories, each of those buildings has histories, and each of those machines has technology. One tile is a product of an incredible web of innovation. In response to a need for greater road safety, designers, distributors, mechanics, workers, and city planners, collaborated to find a solution.    But in the current globalized world, inequities are part of the story behind every object. Oftentimes, the items we are surrounded by are forged in factories of injustice. Uighurs are forced to pick the cotton our shirts are sewn from. Exploited immigrants pick the berries in our kitchens. Overwhelmed outsourced content reviewers protect our innocence. Behind each item we purchase and every connection we make, there is a story that is hidden, waiting to be uncovered.

Millions of tiles, millions of little things pass us by. Think deeper, think longer. Listen to those moments when something takes shape. Sometimes traffic appears when logic says the drive should be smooth. Embrace the traffic. Maybe something is working in your favor. Maybe that traffic is going to open your eyes to a whole new wonder of life. Sometimes your shoelaces untie seemingly without logic. Let them be untied. Take the time to tie them with care. Sometimes it is tough to appreciate the little things when the world is overwhelmed with headlines of war and hate. But just as Sisyphus must be happy, we must appreciate the little things, for they grace us with joy and wonder.

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