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Notes of perfection

All of us experience moments of greatness.

For 45 years Edward Kleinhammer was a bass trombonist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was, by any measure, the finest bass trombonist who ever picked up the horn. For 45 years he played magnificent music in one of the world's premier orchestras under the baton of historic conductors and with some of the best musicians ever assembled. After his final performance, so the story goes, he was asked how he would characterize such a distinguished career. "It was 20 minutes of great music," he was quoted as saying. While 20 minutes may not sound like a lot, Kleinhammer had a point that rings true for all of us. If we work hard at what we're most passionate about, we'll be rewarded with a few thrilling moments of perfection.

My 10-year career as a bass trombonist was not nearly as celebrated as Kleinhammer's. Even so, I can remember my own few moments of great music, like the time I played Hector Berlioz's Requiem with the Indianapolis Symphony at the Wolf Trap Center in Vienna, Virginia - the brass section literally played in the rafters. And there was the time after two long, hot days of rehearsals in Washington, D.C., that I played Randall Thompson's Testament of Freedom with the U.S. Army Band and Chorus.

If you ask me, and I suspect if you asked Ed Kleinhammer, whether or not the years of practicing scales and arpeggios and long tones and lip slurs just to experience a few minutes of musical transcendence was worth it, the answer would be yes. In fact, all that hard work makes you appreciate those moments even more.

I've been a runner now for longer than I was a professional musician. And if I were asked to break down my singularly undistinguished running career, I would say that it, too, has come down to a few minutes of simply magical moments, like running on a forested trail on a cool morning and seeing a field of grass crystalized by the dew. Or running along the Chicago Lakefront Path the morning after a summer storm and watching the clouds move eastward as the sun rises. It's in those moments that I understand that being a runner brings me closer to a world of calm, beauty, and harmony - a world that I can only experience on my own two feet.

I've also had the privilege to share in the magic moments of other runners, like holding a young man at the finish line of a marathon as he cried with exhaustion and the elation of being physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. Or seeing the joy in the eyes of a middle-aged woman who, by crossing the finish line of her first 5-K, had liberated herself from a lifetime of self-imposed limitations. On those days when I think that I am too tired or too busy or that my life is too cluttered to run, I remember those moments. I get myself out the door because I know all the miles of training, all the sweat and hard work may come down to just 20 minutes of greatness.

And, like Ed Kleinhammer and his music, I know that on the day I run the final time, I will be able to look back and say it was worth it.

Waddle on, friends.

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