There is Magic in the World

May 27, 2013 in Media, Sports, Writing

Tony Kanaan Holding Necklace (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports)

Tony Kanaan Holding Necklace
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports)

If you’re as big an Indy 500 fan as I am, you were probably just as thrilled to see Tony Kanaan finally win the race this past Sunday. But as much as I loved watching a great driver get the accolade he so greatly deserved on merit alone, there was something else that struck me about his victory. Something magical.

If you don’t know the story, it goes like this…

Nine years ago, Tony Kanaan went to visit a very sick young girl in the hospital who was already in a coma and was about to have critical surgery on a life-threatening brain hemorrhage. Her chances were not good. In that moment, wanting to help her the only way he knew how, TK gave the young girl’s mother the good luck charm that his own mother had given to him for protection, which he carried with him whenever he raced. The necklace was kept close all through the surgery and turned out to be very good luck for the 15-year-old girl as well, who survived the ordeal and was able to make a full recovery.

But little did TK know that her gain was to be his loss. That year he finished second. And for the next eight races, after a series of frustrations and misfortunes that would include two races finishing under caution, the checkered flag would always elude him. Once, when TK’s young son asked him when he would finally come home to Brazil, he told his boy that he did not want to come home empty-handed; that he would return when he had a trophy for him.

Flash forward to last week. A few days before the 2013 running of the Indy 500, the now 24-year-old mother to her own infant baby FedExed a package to TK’s garage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Inside was TK’s good luck charm that he had given to her nine years earlier and which had helped guide her back to health. For nine years she’d held that necklace on race day, hoping for nothing more than victory for her favorite driver, and for nine years she’d shared in his disappointment. So now she wanted to help him the only way she knew how. The note attached said that she was returning the necklace to him so that he could go out there on Sunday and win. Win. Tony Kanaan took the charm with him into the race, as he always did so many years earlier.

Running in 2nd place under a yellow flag with just under four laps to go, Tony Kanaan said over his radio that it was all or nothing; he was going to go for it. The restart was tight, with at least four drivers gunning for the lead, but TK passed on the inside and inched into 1st. A minute later, with just two laps to go, last year’s winner Dario Franchitti went into the wall and brought out another yellow flag with TK still in the lead. Once again, Tony Kanaan finished the race under caution, only this time he was the victor.

As TK wiped the tears from his eyes and pulled his lucky necklace from out of his pocket to show the world, I realized that there is magic in the world. Maybe not in the trinket he carried in his pocket, but certainly in the story itself. Sometimes a narrative comes along that is bigger than life itself—a perfect cocktail of tragedy and triumph shaken with an exact measure of coincidence or fate (depending upon your world view). A story like this is a story for the ages, and whether or not it ever gets shaped into a formal narrative, it is one that captures the spirit and essence of the human condition.

I don’t believe in physical magic. I don’t believe in the alchemy of water into wine or lead into gold, but I do believe there is a kind of magic we can all share, and that’s the magic of story. Real magic lies not in the physical world but in the way we interpret that world into our own existence. And that interpretation—that narrative—is enough to bring tears to the eyes and a standing ovation whenever it happens.

Congratulations Tony Kanaan, and here’s hoping that your first victory isn’t your last.