This I Believe
I don’t really know exactly when music became such a central part in shaping my belief system, but sometime during the first ten years of my life, I began discovering that the music and lyrics I heard had a profound effect on how I moved through the world and how I viewed myself in it. The first song I ever learned to sing and play on the guitar was Puff the Magic Dragon when I was 8 years old. I had difficult childhood. My father was an alcoholic and a workaholic. Singing the song about Puff just made my life seem normal somehow, because the story of the boy and the dragon explained that growing up could be sad, even painful. This gave me the courage to understand what was going on in my own life. After that I learned all the songs of the time by writers like Carol King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and so many others. I sang them to everyone and anyone who would listen in every coffee bar, street mall and talent show imaginable. The songs untangled the world for me and helped me find my place in it. I began to believe in myself and my ability to succeed.
My voice earned me a college scholarship and a classical musical education. My Jewish heritage had always been important to me and propelled me to enter a graduate school seminary where I could combine music and theology. There my training as a cantor prepared me for a career serving as a spiritual leader in the Jewish community. After graduate school I began searching for a way to express all that music meant to me. Performing was one thing, but expressing my spiritual beliefs through music was another thing entirely. I had always written a lot of poetry but the music that accompanied the lyrics never seemed to come. All of that changed one day, when my rabbi, who was a large man and very kind, told me in a tearful voice that his beloved wife had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. My heart was so full of pain for him and yet, I felt completely helpless to do anything. Soon after, I was on a plane traveling to a conference, when the words and melody to my first song came into my head. It was a prayer of blessing, the words from an ancient verse of Torah, a blessing to ease the pain of my rabbi. Funny, it eased my pain too. The song gave me courage to face the reality of things over which I had no control. Words and music had transformed themselves into my own expression of faith and belief. I haven’t stopped writing since.
I believe that music has the power to heal and to uplift, to stir and inspire, to move and empower people in a way that can change their life and the lives of others around them. I believe that when we sing together, we link ourselves to a higher purpose and a realization that our voice matters. I know that without the story of Puff, I never would have believed that my voice mattered or had the courage or the imagination to believe in myself.
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