The Famous Safety Pin
Is there anyone left in America who doesn't want to be famous? Fame seems to meet a need, a hunger we have to be noticed, to bask in the spot light. On the web, thousands of blogs by eager writers jockey for space. YouTube offers videos posted by millions of wannabe stars. Reality TV pivots regular Americans into the spotlight, and American Idol creates personalities overnight.
And yet most of us remain persistently unfamous. We spend our days going to work rather than cavorting with the stars. And it can be tempting to think of our humble, predictable, unglamorous, unsung days at work as a sign of our failure. Working allows us to bring home the bacon. It might even be satisfying. But being a middle manager or teaching high school doesn't bring fame.
Jesus had a different idea about fame. What does it mean that he said, "Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first"? He also said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matt 19:14, 30). Children. Adults who are not winners, but who come in last. Jesus seemed to prefer the small, the insignificant, and the weak.
Jesus loved what was overlooked. I don't think he meant that being overlooked, by itself, is a virtue. I think he meant that we have a habit of overlooking the most important things around us.
Think of a safety pin. A safety pin can hold your pants up. It can pin a cleaning tag to a blouse. It connects one thing to another. In itself, it isn't worth much. You can buy hundreds of safety pins for a dollar. But what would we do without them?
A safety pin doesn't have a chance of being famous. It will never star on a TV show. It will never be the subject of a painting. It will probably never inspire a poem.
The safety pin didn't even make its inventor famous, and it certainly didn't make him rich. In 1834, Walter Hunt was a Quaker living in New York, and he owed a debt of $15. At the time, $15 was a whole month's rent. What could he think up that might bring in enough to pay his debt? His inventor's mind swept over the possibilities. He wasn't thinking about us, here, reading about him. Eventually, he bent a wire into a paper clip shape and sold it for $400. That's all he got for the lowly safety pin—enough to bail him out. Enough to keep us pinned together. But not enough to make him famous.
But what he invented works. Safety pins work. What makes them work are their simple design, their unpretentiousness, their ability to attach one thing to another. We are like safety pins. What we do every day when we go to our jobs is crucial. If we are connecting to others, simply and humbly, if we are doing what we were made to do, in the end, our lives will outshine lives of showy fame.
Read more of Jeanne Murray Walker's poetry, stories, and plays at her website, www.JeanneMurrayWalker.org.