Carter’s favorite thing to do is something he calls “swinging stuff” and that my husband and I refer to as “ninja ballet.” It involves a plastic sword, light saber, or stick, and lots of jumping, spinning, and twirling (of both the stick and the boy himself).
Carter is devout in his practice of this art. For at least four years, he’s spent many hours every week, sometimes several hours in a single day, working with his stick in the yard. He spins. He whirls. He shouts.
The whole thing is surprisingly graceful and fun to watch. In his imagination, he’s fighting battles like the ones in the movies and TV shows he likes (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Ninjago), but from my place in the dining room where I watch him through the sliders, it looks more like dancing than dueling.
I see him out there, toiling happily, working and puffing and struggling to master a new move he’s invented and he is an artist of his own training and invention. “I can’t wait to go home and swing my stick,” he says sometimes after a day at school, and I imagine young Mozart saying after a day with math and history, “I can’t wait to go home and get to my piano.” He’s like Emily Dickinson, devoted to his art not for fame or admiration but because the art is its own reward.
Does that seem like too much? Maybe. Comparing an eleven-year-old boy playing in the yard with a broomstick to some of the greatest artists in history is a stretch, but Carter’s devotion is unassailable. Unless something changes in our culture, there aren’t going to be any TV shows that showcase his skills. He’s not going to get rich or famous because of it.
But…is his life not immeasurably better because he has art? Because he seeks to meet a challenge he has created for himself, and is diligent in improving his form? Because he loses himself in something he loves without concern that the thing he loves is nothing most people would recognize?
He does this with almost no audience. Sometimes, he shows Brian or me or one of his grandparents what he can do. He took his stick to our church retreat and enjoyed showing a few people his moves. He doesn’t mind being watched, but he doesn’t do it for the purpose of performance, or for any other purpose beyond the joy of the thing itself.
Whether we are stick swingers, word slingers, food composers, paint smearers, garden tenders, quilt builders, or music makers, may we all find some of Carter’s perseverance and dedication in ourselves. Our lives, too, will be immeasurably better.