Coming in Last

I came in dead last in a 5K race once.

It was probably 20 years ago, I was living in Chicago, and my friend Paul and I were running buddies. We had done a few local races the previous summer, and were a little stir crazy in the winter.

We heard that the Heartland Cafe was sponsoring a Valentine’s Day 5K, and that sounded like a delightful idea to us both. Paul and I always could egg each other on – we were all about the YES, AND. We prepaid. We called each other to make sure we were still going.

When Valentine’s Day came, it turned out to be February – we hadn’t thought of that. It turns out that the only people who show up for a Chicago lakefront 5K when it is below freezing and snowing sideways are about fifteen REALLY SERIOUS RUNNERS, and us, a couple of doofus musicians. This was not quite the welcoming, uplifting community experience we had looked forward to.

But the starter said GO, and off we went.

The weather really was quite terrible. It was dark out, and the wind was fierce and the snow was in our faces, and 5K is not an intimidating distance but it takes some DOING, you know? Striving through adverse conditions for a half hour is not nothing. It really felt like we were OVERCOMING.

Paul and I came in LAST by many minutes. We couldn’t even see the people ahead of us.

And the best thing about this is how much it didn’t matter at all. We were all out there, we did the thing, we celebrated afterward. Everyone’s race felt terrible, everyone was exhilarated afterward. The SERIOUS RUNNERS drank beers with us, just like people. We felt such a grand sense of accomplishment. I still have the race shirt – I wear it to bed sometimes.

Sometimes playing the oboe can feel like fighting a losing battle. You engage with it and just when you think you can kind of play, the reed says NOPE or the instrument gets water, or you pass your breath mark and get into suffocation territory. It feels like we’re all slogging through a blizzard, and there’s indefinitely more K still to come, and there’s no way to win.

But when a concert is going on – especially if conditions are not quite perfect and there are obstacles to overcome along the way – I can still find the sheer exhilaration of galloping through a blizzard, hopelessly outmatched, giggling with my friend about just how awful it feels. When the performance ends, everyone in it shares a sense of accomplishment and affection. And it doesn’t matter who comes “first” or “last” when really, everyone who shows up wins.

This is your time. If you love the idea of showing up in an oboe group where everyone wins, where winning is finding your own path to EASE, to COMFORT, to ARTISTRY? You might love to join The Invincible Oboist. We’ll demystify the instrument and the skills, and clear the path for a focus on the creativity of practicing and performing. And we’ll do it together, because it’s more fun like that.

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