“Who can work in this tight space?” the float decorator asked.

“We can,” I told him.

“Great.” He responded. “Take these spruce branches and pin them along the floor of this section.” 

Suki and I crawled into position to begin our work on the City of Burbank’s float for the 2020 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California. We carefully selected the greenest, fullest branches and attached them with pins overlapping each branch to completely cover the surface.  “I can’t believe we’re really here,” Suki said as we worked side-by-side in the cold cramped space. With chilly fingers and silly grins, we picked each twig as if it were going to be the centerpiece of the float. 

We were working in a small warehouse complex in Burbank, California. One building housed the millions of bright flowers waiting to be de-stemmed and applied to the float. The other building was the temporary home   of the platform and structure of the float named “Rise Up.” 

“The Power of Hope” was the theme of the 2020 Rose Parade. This float of a 28-foot tall phoenix rising from ashes over a five-foot-tall waterfall represented the hope of a new beginning after the devastating forest fires in California in 2018 and 2019. Charred tree stumps spiked up from the gray surface behind the giant bird while live flames shot in the air at the back of the moving floral display. Bright flowers and lush greenery surrounded the waterfall as a sign of growth and renewal supplying water and sustenance to the surrounding area and creating new life.

Many of the floats in the Rose Bowl Parade are built by professional companies. However, six are still designed and built entirely by volunteers. “Rise Up” was one such float. The construction of a Rose Bowl Parade float takes almost a year. Starting in March thousands of volunteers join together putting in over 10,000 hours to produce the finished product that rolled down Colorado Avenue on New Year’s Day. The application of the live flowers and greenery is the last stage of construction in the week between Christmas and New Year.

Sitting in the stands to watch the parade I felt a sense of ownership as “my” float passed by. I pointed with pride to the small green section where Suki and I had worked. “That’s our part!” I shouted.

We weren’t driving the float or operating the flames shooting out the back. We didn’t program the giant bird’s movements and we hadn’t even worked on a part that was particularly noticeable. We hadn’t built any of the enormous flowers or meticulously glued mango slivers around the beak of the bird. 

Our float was one of 89 entries in the parade and we only saw it for a couple of minutes as it glided past the stands. In the grand scheme of things, you might say our efforts didn’t matter. After all, it was an insignificant section on one of over forty floats and, except for Suki and me, it seemed like nobody noticed. And, it’s true. The spectators probably never saw the section where we worked which was partially covered by a giant flower. But even if it barely shows, every square inch of each float is important and someone does pay attention to every part: the judge.

Floats are judged in 14 categories and every float is judged twice. The judge evaluates each float with care. Any area of the float that is not covered by organic materials brings a deduction in scoring. The judge considers everything from the general to the details. He looks at the theme, the use of flowers, the color scheme, the mechanics, workmanship, materials used, the creativity and hundreds of other aspects of the float. 

It’s easy to become distracted by the millions watching the parade and forget the importance of the judge. In the grand scheme of things, our small slice of life might seem to be insignificant. Not only are we not a big fish in a big pond, but we may also think we’re not even a small fish in a small pond. Our lives may not be lived in the spotlight and we may not even feel like we’re driving our own float. What may be a big milestone in the parade of my life may not even be noticed outside my small circle of friends. It would be easy to look at the tiny twigs on our little corner of space and say, “It doesn’t matter what I do. No one will notice this.”

Your small section of the float of life might not seem like much, but, it’s yours. You’re doing the best you can with what you have. You pick and choose the best of the twigs to work with and you work diligently to bring your best to your small section of life. So in this new year, let me encourage you. Your part does matter and, believe me, not only are you a part of something bigger, The Judge notices everything about you.