There was once a juggler. He was known across the land for his skills. He could juggle practically any number of things for as long as he wanted. It was said that he had never made a mistake and was, in fact, incapable of making one.
His fame grew as he travelled far and wide and performed in palaces, royal courts, and town halls. Because he made juggling look like the easiest thing to do, many tried their hand at the craft. They gave up when they were bored or became too acutely aware of their limitations. Funnily enough, no one had ever asked the juggler to teach them.
One day a boy came to the juggler after he had finished a show. He was putting the tenpins, balls, chainsaws and other assorted things into their respective bags and boxes.
“Teach me to juggle,” said the boy.
The juggler remembered the boy from his audience the day before, and the day before that, and before that. He remembered the boy because he never clapped or shouted during the shows. He never laughed and he never whistled his approval. To less experienced eyes, the boy might have appeared unappreciative or stuck-up. But the juggler had been expecting him to show up.
“You have tried juggling before?” asked the juggler.
“Yes,” said the boy. There was a note of sad longing in his voice.
The juggler gave the boy three balls. People were still leaving the place. Dust swirled gently in the orange light of the setting sun. He stretched himself and a part-lazy-part-tired smile broke across his face.
“Show me what you can do,” he said to the boy.
The boy juggled. He kept the balls going for a good while before he misjudged and dropped one. He looked at the fallen ball for a while and then his eyes met the juggler’s gaze.
“You need some work, but you are not bad,” said the juggler.
“I make mistakes,” said the boy.
“You will always make mistakes,” the juggler said.
“Yes,” said the boy. “But one day when I have practiced enough and learnt everything you know, I will be perfect. Then I will make no mistakes.”
“You will always make mistakes,” the juggler said again. “There is nothing wrong with making mistakes. I make mistakes all the times. Sometimes even with three balls.”
“But you never make mistakes,” the boy protested weakly.
“Says who?” the juggler asked — a little annoyed, a little amused. Then without waiting for an answer, he continued, “I am glad I make mistakes.”
The boy picked up the third ball from the ground. The juggler took the balls from him and put them back in the bag.
“When I drop a ball,” said the juggler as he tied the bag close, “I pick it up and start juggling again.”
“It doesn’t bother you that you are not perfect?”
“I am perfect,” the juggler smiled widely. “So are you. Dropping balls is part of juggling.”
“But they say you never make a mistake,” if the boy sounded disillusioned, the juggler didn’t seem to care.
“I don’t juggle to convince people that I am perfect. I don’t juggle to uphold their ideas about me,” said the juggler. “Even if the world thought I sucked at juggling and even if there was no one at my shows but me, I would still juggle all day. I juggle because it gives me joy.”
The boy’s face was unfathomable. Even after a long time, he didn’t speak.
The juggler moved closer to him and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy showing off before crowds. The cheers always give me a boost. They are all very useful side benefits. But that is all they are — side benefits.”
The boy was looking up at the juggler’s bright and cheerful face. He still wanted to learn juggling. But he had learnt a far greater lesson already. He now knew why he wanted to juggle.