Tuesday, May 23, 2006

one false step.

i know there are people out there who think that anyone who sheds a tear over an animal is a maudlin idiot. if you are one of those people, this post isn’t for you.

i read an article in today’s trib titled Barbaro’s fight for survival strikes a human chord. For me personally, this is an understatement. what happened to barbaro at the preakness has been rolling around in my mind the past few days, like a pin come loose from the machinery, and i can’t quite get a handle on it. i can’t figure out what it’s all about.

from my thanksgiving posts, you’ll remember that i have a bit of a fondness for horseracing. this was passed along to me by my parents, when we took our first family trip to saratoga in the late 80s. i couldn’t have been more than eight years old, but the track, the horses, the energy and excitement and pulsing life of the whole enterprise took hold of me even then. now, after almost twenty years, there is still nothing quite like standing along the rail near the finish line, the anticipation palpably building in the crowd as the horses turn for home, and watching this wave of joy and hope and enthusiasm explode along the stands as the field thunders down the stretch. and you see these horses go by you, so close, and the power and grace of their bodies takes your breath away.

there is really no other singular experience like it. none.

and so, on sunday, when i read this espn.com article , a particular point struck me:

At its best, horse racing can make romantics out of hopeless cynics. At its worst, it can smash a romantic's heart.

this is it. this is the thing. i am the cynic. i don’t believe in things, really, i just cross my fingers and hope for the best. i don’t expect divine intervention, i don’t expect the kindly hand of fate, i don’t think that things happen for a reason or that it will necessarily all work out for the best. this mindset colors most of my waking life, and i’ve made do with that thus far, constructing a functional little perspective from a few scattered shards of all the belief systems i’ve discarded along the way. and that’s fine.

and then i sat on the couch on saturday, watching barbaro drop away from the pack, listening to the announcer's shocked scream, feeling my own hand clasped instinctively to my mouth. i sat, stunned, and felt the crush of reality. the reality of a dream shattered in the space of fifteen seconds - the reality of limitless potential struck down by one false step. and it didn’t matter that it was “just” a horse. the grief of those moments was real, and it was an understanding that even in one of the few remaining idyllic refuges of my life – the revelation of a beautifully run horserace – there could be cruel, improbable, unearned despair.

perhaps this sounds childish. i guess that’s because it is. i didn’t have a lot of faith left to lose when the starting gate at pimlico rattled open on saturday, but the small amount that did remain i had been clutching intensely, nurturing through so many other instances of darkness and disappointment. a little bit more of that faith fell away with the sight of barbaro twisting in pain, felled by an errant step - by something so inscrutable and remorselessly random. and since i don’t have that much faith to spare, barbaro’s fight to stay alive now consumes more of my attention than should be reasonable.

but i watch and hope, along with millions of others, because that’s all there is to do. i hope that something can be salvaged from tragedy. i hope that a resiliency of spirit takes hold. i hope that he survives.


Toast said...

constructing a functional little perspective from a few scattered shards of all the belief systems i’ve discarded along the way

That's a really nice turn of phrase.

dadcat said...

Charles Carrol, the author of Handicapping Speed, once said
"A profit at the race track isn't a profit until you spend it somewhere else". .
I'm sooo glad we went to Saratoga that summer. The dividend matured today in this post, with interest!

another quote of note...
"The only decent people I ever met at the race course were the horses"
James Joyce