Today my youngest daughter dressed up as Jackie O for a school project. Pink polyester dress? Check. Neat little bow in front? Check. Pillbox hat? Check. And of course, we couldn’t forget Jackie’s signature white gloves and pearls. Check, check.
As a happy little “extra,” we decided to add some craft-store pearls to her project posterboard. This greatly amused my husband, for anyone that really knows me knows that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been on a campaign to embrace imperfection (thanks, Brené Brown!)—and yet I managed to freak out over a first-grade project posterboard. Pearls? He asked. Really?
Because I just couldn’t help myself. I’m a Southern girl, and in the picture-frame world where I come from, there are pearls on a first-grader’s Jackie O posterboard. There are also custom-made outfits and carefully typed-up facts that are proudly displayed on some seriously stark white cardstock, because the first-grader’s crossed out sharpie mistakes on plain white printer paper simply will not do.
Because everyone was going to be looking at her. Watching her. Judging her on everything—her costume, her tri-board, her oral presentation. Everything.
Needless to say, when it was all over, I was beyond relieved. The speeches were done, the outfits were about to be a thing of the past, and the tri-boards were on the way out.
And then, just when I thought I was safe, disaster struck. As the students carried their tri-boards for final display in the first-grade hallway, it happened: the loud “crash” of the pearls falling from my daughter’s posterboard to the floor.
I could only watch in horror.
Pearls were flying everywhere, all over the cafeteria. People were staring.
I immediately sprawled to pick them up, and I could feel the hot glare of people standing in judgment all around me. “You need to pick those up, “ I heard one woman say. “Because someone is going to step on one and get hurt.”
Really? Thanks, lady. As if this embarrassing fail wasn’t enough, it was made more embarrassing by the woman’s reminder that it could potentially harm the people around me. I could feel myself begin to sweat.
For the next few minutes, I lunged for pearl after pearl, trying hard to blend in with the linoleum so that no one would notice. Suddenly, another woman tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a handful of beads. I felt relieved. “Here,” she said with a smile as I continued to scour the gym floor. “Thank you,” I said, quickly returning to the floor, determined to get them all. No one is going to step on one of these stray pearls and get hurt, I thought. My mess will not cause harm to others.
I eventually gathered all of the pearls, took them back to my daughter’s tri-board, and (with her teacher’s permission), restrung them and placed them back on. There, that's better, I thought.
And this experience reminded me of something.
Something called life.
In everyday life, things go awry. Our pearls go flying. Sometimes one by one, sometimes beads at a time, and sometimes the whole string comes completely off and ends up scattered all over creation.
We lose a friend. A job. A marriage. A loved one dies. A child rebels. Our health suffers. We face addiction or mental illness or financial woe. Whatever it is, it throws us off. Our shiny, perfect image is suddenly tattered. And we go to great lengths to bend down and blend in with the linoleum as we desperately try to pick up the pieces, hoping no one can see us in our time of distress.
But friends, I urge you, don’t try to hide when your pearls go flying. Allow others to see you as you’re picking them up, one by one. Because only when they can see your need will they be able to step forward and help you pick them up, too.
Sure, there will be those who stand idly by and watch you as your struggle. They might comment and judge as they sit by and do nothing. But for all of those people, there will be the helpers. The ones who bend down with us to help us pick up our pearls and restring them and start again.
Hear this, friends. Your string of pearls will, at some point, go flying. And over the years, you may end up with a few less beads, a few of them yellowed, and maybe even some that are broken or chipped, but remember: they are yours. Wear them proudly.
And when the pearls fly, treasure those people who will stop and bend down, knees to the linoleum, to help you pick them up.