The single biggest deal of the entire span of Kindergarten through eighth grade at my childhood grammar school was the eighth grade trip to Cape Cod to whale watch and learn parts of our country’s story by way of lighthouses and pilgrim reenactments. To be clear, both fifth and eight graders went on this trip, so you had two shots - but to go as an eighth grader was the capstone experience of what was a truly incredible public education.
I remember things about the trip as a fifth grader. I remember things about the eighth grade trip. I remember feeling stronger and more capable climbing lighthouse stairs as a bigger kid, I remember the novelty of a city kid actually seeing whales, I remember the weight of the exhaustion that I felt as we pulled into the hotel parking lot for the night, I remember deepening friendships with three friends who to this day are among the most important people to me in the entire world.
But the thing I remember the most about the eighth grade trip was the bus ride up and back. That was the first time that I listened to Counting Crows’ first album - August and Everything After.
If I had to guess, I bet that I received that CD for a penny or so from Columbia House and I probably chose the CD because I had heard “Mr. Jones” on the radio in recent months. “Mr. Jones” was sunny and happy, but also a bit dark and complex. I was kind of like that as a thirteen year old.
So, on the bus from New Jersey to Massachusetts and back to New Jersey, I listened to August and Everything After. Over and over and over again.
Isn’t that interesting -- how sitting alone, underneath headphones, captivated by music recorded in some far-off time or place -- can make you feel as though you are at the very center of the universe?
Reb Nachman, an 18th Century Chassidic teacher and spiritual leader, went out into nature to connect to the Universe. When I was 13, I held my ice-blue discman on my lap on a bus and found the same to be true.
Now, as a cantor and a mom of little kids, years and years later, I listen to August and Everything After from time to time. When I do, it is as if I am thirteen. It is as if I am filled with the same sense of potential and the same sense of deep personal validation and acceptance. Other people hear what I hear and feel what I feel. And I am at peace.
This is prayer.
Prayer is a time machine. Words and notes and music, secular and sacred, can transport us right to a moment when we stood at a point farther back, when more of the path was untrodden.
Prayer transports us to times when we were building the blocks of our spiritual identity, where faith and belief were less hazy behind the veil of a life lived.
Prayer is an anchor in the tumult. So is August and Everything After.
Cantor Mary Thomas is the Cantor at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, where she has served since July 2011. She is passionate about Jewish history, music, worship, and building community. And Counting Crows.
This is one of a series of posts exploring the intersection of rock and spirituality, leading up to the release of In Pursuit, an album of original Jewish hard rock. Sign up for the mailing list to learn more.