Monday over Coffee: "Astonishing"

Published May 16, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

Oh my goodness!
— Churchill Downs Track Announcer Larry Collmus

Every so often, a sequence of events occurs leaving me face to face with a failure of which I'm sadly, serially guilty. I'm not sure what to call it, but it's marked by an inadequate appreciation of the myriad of wonders passing me by each day. It's a mindset—a posture of the spirit perhaps—that tends to miscategorize the miraculous as prosaic, the extraordinary as commonplace. This is to say, I resist being astonished.

The 2022 Kentucky Derby took place in Louisville between 6:57 and 7:00 PM EST on May 7. What happened within that brief span, Chuck Culpepper and Glynn Hill of the Washington Post described like this:

The stuff of irrational daydreams and sugarplum fairies and future books and future movies and deathless wonder happened Saturday evening at the 148th Kentucky Derby, where a colossal stretch duel yielded suddenly and shockingly to an alternative reality. There, as favorites Epicenter and Zandon battled one the fumes of the stretch, an interloper appeared along the rail. Rich Strike, who did not even get into the Kentucky Derby until Friday morning...and who went off at 80-1, materialized and capitalized on the others' dogged wane.

If you've not yet seen a replay of this race with track announcer Larry Collmus' voice in your ears (as I now have some twenty times), you must. It's incredible—a chestnut thoroughbred, the longest of longshots, weaving from the back of the field as if in a video game, then accelerating into an outlandish gear over the last furlong of the track, through a thick density of equine traffic, to cross the finish line first. "Rich Strike is coming up on the inside!" Collmus exclaims in the final seconds of the race, "Oh my goodness!" The horse's owner, an unassuming Oklahoman named Richard Dawson could barely believe it himself. "I asked my trainer up on the stage, 'Are you sure this is not a dream because it can't be true?'" Astonishing.

About 24 hours later, I filed into Houston's NRG Stadium with my friend Dan and about 50,000 others—a diverse group of all ages and nationalities—to see a popular British band called Coldplay. They performed with such genuine elation for two hours that the whole show seemed as if it lasted only fifteen minutes. The last time Coldplay came to Houston was in 2017, the day Hurricane Harvey devastated our city. The show was canceled. They were supposed to return in 2020, but a pandemic broke out.

Houston Chronicle music critic, Joey Guerra, described the band's long-awaited return like this: "Sunday night's show inside NRG Stadium was, in a word, joy. Pure explosion of color and sound, of warmth and energy." And for all the spectacle—the giant multi-colored spheres bouncing over the audience, the special effects, the confetti cannons—the most powerful moment of the evening occurred when the band's sweat-drenched singer, Chris Martin, briefly stopped the show to ask everyone to put down their phones and simply be present, reveling in an unfolding moment. "Life is short," he said. "Let's be in it together." Launching into a song called, "A Sky Full of Stars," what ensued felt like a small miracle—a stadium full of people energetically jumping in near-synchronous ecstasy with the LED bracelets we'd received coming into the concert lighting up the arena in blue and white as we moved. When Martin threw his hands in the air during the song, on the enormous screens set up over the stage, one could easily read the three words tattooed on the inside of his arm: "God Is Love."

Once the gates of astonishment crack open, they often swing wide. Later that night, it struck me that I got home from an astonishing concert by touching a few buttons on an astonishingly efficient application on my astonishingly miraculous phone. An ebullient and kind man named Mustafa in a Nissan Sentra easily located me in the parking lot of a PetSmart store near the stadium and brought me home for a reasonable fee. In the meantime, my wife who'd been 2,000 miles away in Canada all weekend to see family she'd not seen in three years, flew over a towering mountain range to get back home in just a few hours. Astonishing.

Oh, and between the Kentucky Derby and Coldplay, I'd slept—that is to say, falling into a stupendous overnight unconsciousness—then miraculously awakened Sunday morning at which time I arose and went to church where, astonishingly, I found myself in the presence of the Creator of fast horses and joyful music, of the sky full of stars, and of Mustafa and me.

God — Oh my goodness! Amen.

— Greg Funderburk