2. Slow motion footage of thoroughbred silhouette walking through barn door, sun rays alternately framing glistening horse, led by silhouette of small, doting child holding bucket of oats.
3. Fade to blurry background as sentimental piano music increases in volume and voice of Bob Costas offers lead-in to A) Cinderella story of epic proportions, B) tragic tale of untimely personal health crisis, or C) all-American account of blue-collar little league coaches who pitched in 100 bucks each on a long shot.
4. Flash to picture of unlikely woman in unlikely hat waiting for dreams to come true. Move to climax of saga, music increases in majesty ala Jurassic Park, halo around horse’s mane radiates, hope of entire community hangs in the balance.
5. Transition to stock footage of mint juleps, blanket of roses, celebs singing My Old Kentucky Home, jockeys’ eyes welling up with tears, slowly mouthing, “This horse is something else.”
To be continued. Ellipse out…
New horse, repeat steps 1 through 5.
Saturday’s Kentucky Derby snuck up on me. Prior to flipping on the TV around 1 pm, I had almost forgotten about the first-week-in-May, royal-family-style tradition of Kentucky horseracing. I had heard no talk of favorites, frontrunners, longshots, or crowdpleasers. Who would I cheer for? Which horse’s awkward name would I shout at my television screen for 2 glorious minutes? What new Triple Crown contender would I struggle to remember on Monday yielding results like “Secretary of Warbiscuit”?
I didn’t know the field on Saturday, so I decided I would let NBC tug my heartstrings in the right direction.
As the day went on, however, my heartstrings were worn.out. Each commercial break segued into a new story, each horse represented the hopes, dreams, struggles, lifeblood, and journey of new person or group of people, each mini-drama sentimentally suggested that that particular horse was born for that particular day. My loyalties jumped from one contender to the next, wishing and hoping that he could pull it off for the sake of all of those good people behind him. Come on, buddy. They are counting on you.
And they’re off.
One and a quarter miles. 21 horses. 2 minutes.
Aaaaaand it’s over.
As I’ll Have Another (I was very pleased to learn that his name was in reference to chocolate chip cookies) made his way to the winner’s circle, I couldn’t help but wonder about all of those scrapped happy endings, about all of the footage that would be converted to sad, nostalgic youTube videos about the horse-we-really-thought-was-something-special. For the 20 non-winners, how would their entourages deal with the fact that their “one shot at history” had passed, that everything seemed to line up perfectly—everything but the end. A horse that was born for a moment didn’t make it to that moment’s photo finish.
Not to be too cheesy, but it’s true: much of life often looks a bit like the Kentucky Derby walk-back-to-the-stables. We get a hunch, sentimental details and signs fall into place, we become ever more convinced of what God’s will is, and then we are stuck wearing a stupid hat in the Churchill Downs parking lot, looking up at heaven saying, “Where were you on that one?” The perfect marriage-in-the-making ends in unrequited love, the customized nameplate on the desk somehow has someone else’s John Hancock on it, the acceptance letter got delivered to the wrong house, even the five kids named after obscure saints to be raised as future priests and nuns never arrive. How could this not be your will, God?
Like the horses racing around the track on Saturday, we, too, are ultimately powerless to write the final details of our own narratives. But, in contrast to Bodemeister, Union Rags, Daddy Longs Legs and the crew, we are fortunately not born for a single moment. When our own final chapter has to be scrapped in favor of a new novel with an adjusted moral, our well-intentioned preparations seem to chide us, a waste of time, effort and emotion. However, this side of heaven, there is no true culminating story that builds up to an arrival, to a winner’s circle bestowal of trophies and flash bulbs. Preparation for a moment turns into a positive shaping of our character, a building of discipline, a realization that life—and sanctity—is all about the training runs and the continual humble re-alignment to Someone else’s plans, Someone else’s cut-to-credits. Looking back, that footage tells the real story.
Rozann Carter is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.