Never underestimate the value of becoming enthusiastic about something in life—especially a hobby, a more or less purposeless enthusiasm not involving any striving or wishing. Here I’m not talking about an amateur sport like golf, which imitates the competition of everyday life, its thrills, frustrations, and disappointments. Last spring I had the honor of hosting a Japanese drummer, Erika Fujii. One day we went to John Adams High School at the invitation of the marching band percussion director, Charlie Lawrence. After her performance, Mr. Lawrence introduced Erika to the drums in the music room. Then he brought in several of the African drums he had collected over the years and taught Erika the basics of African drumming. In a few minutes they were joyously drumming together—Erika in the spirit of play, discovering what the unfamiliar drums could do. Both are serious drummers, but this moment of sharing and exploration was the child-like expression of an underlying enthusiasm, a spirit of fun, the most basic motivation of artistic work.
Last weekend I attended an antique automobile show, the inaugural Concours d’Elegance at Copshaholm, hosted by Studebaker National Museum in South Bend. I met some of the enthusiasts who had brought cars from their collections. Antique car restoration is typically a hobby of affluent white people, and that was the case here. The event had a Kentucky Derby-like vibe, with well-dressed couples walking around smiling in old-fashioned hats. The show itself involves a parade of award-winning vehicles, but a competition of this kind, like an art show, feels beside the point in terms of what really drives this enthusiasm. The judging is partly just an excuse to talk about cars. That focus was reflected in the conversation I had with a woman who restores vehicles from the late ’50s and early ’60s with her husband. I was admiring their 1962 rosewood-painted Chrysler Imperial Crown, one of those long sleek rectangular cars that remind me of Zippo lighters. She had stories to share about how they found the car, what they did to restore it, and how the car fits into the history of the model and make. Her language revealed not only her sophistication as a connoisseur, but also the child-like pleasure she took in studying cars, working on them, showing them, and driving them.
At the awards parade, when the judge described what was unique and noteworthy about a particular car, he always took the time to add a comment or two about the collector. Often enough he praised them for their generosity. The first time this happened, I thought he’d say that they’d given time or money to some charity, but instead he praised them for giving so much to car people, helping others to get started in the hobby or to solve restoration challenges. As I thought about it, I began to see that this was exactly the best praise, because it revealed the person’s enthusiasm, a selflessness that comes with any true experience of wonder and joy. Such a person is, in the end, in a better position to be generous in other aspects of their life, because they already possess the joy that sustains them.
Collecting is not defined by the drama of winning and losing. Certainly there are ups and downs, fortunate and unfortunate decisions, good and bad accidents; but a love of beauty, a love of making and sharing, an enthusiasm for learning and play, is always also there to raise them above selfish concerns and show them the world as it could be if it were not lost but restored to us whole and true and just.
Music: "Lowrider" by War