Chasing the Elusive Something

Every now and then, I see an ancient photo about the Holocaust, read a story about a survivor, or watch a movie such as The Pianist.

What must it have been like for Wladyslaw Szpilman, hiding from the Germans, being the target of such atrocities, the genocide, to see it happen to the people right next to him?

The night after I watched “The Pianist,” I dreamt of a giant thoroughbred. He was enormous, maybe 18 hands—so big that I needed help to get on his back. His bridle was frayed and faded, barely enough of a rein to wrap around his neck—just thick red nylon slipping off. I had no grain or hay to feed him, so he chewed a few thick, dry carrots I found at a marketplace.

We galloped winding trails up and down Mount Tamalpais; he made sudden turns, right then left. Horses have a great sense of balance—he teetered on the edge of the short cliffs, but never fell off. I held fast, gripping his back tight with my knees.

Together, we sped after the bad guys—there are always bad guys in my dreams—men on rides as dark as night, clinging to rope and knives, laughs and booze, chasing after screaming, fleeing people.

We rescued a lone woman tied to the top of a pyre. She couldn’t protect herself; I climbed the shaky pile of boards, the horse tenuously stepping after, and reached to untie knots wearing red through her wrists. But then the towering boards started to fall, and the three of us were falling, falling, falling. It was all we could do to stay alive when we hit the dirt at the bottom.

And then I woke up.

As I lay in my bed, I thought of Secretariat. After the champion died, they found he had one of the largest physical hearts ever on record for a horse. His heart weighed 22 pounds, nearly three times the size of the average thoroughbred. What does one do with a heart like that?

If you’re a thoroughbred, your destiny is clear.

You bolt. You just run as fast as you can, again and again.

But as humans, how do we survive this experience, this fragile thing we call life?

Larry Merchant, columnist for the New York Post back in the day, said it well. Before Secretariat secured the 1973 Triple Crown, Merchant wrote: “Secretariat is the kind of Big Horse that makes grown men weep, even when they are flint-hearted bettors. He is the apparently unflawed hunk of beauty and beast they search for doggedly in the racing charts every day, and never seem to find.” 

So even if we can never seem to find this elusive something, it doesn’t mean we have to stop looking.

Dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, April 15, 2013