Mars stopped by and has been hanging out with us for a few weeks. We haven’t gotten it together to go find a telescope somewhere to get a better look, satisfied with the illustrations in all the magazines of what we’d see if we did. We’re happy with Mars as a lower maintenance guest than that, a sessile, silent helicopter or something about four inches over our next door neighbor’s kitchen roof. We say a quick hello running in after a late video and ice cream run, my husband stops for a chat when he takes out the garbage, and if we have other guests over we make sure to take them out and introduce them when it gets late enough. Most agree that it looks pinkish or orange-ish if we squint, but nobody’s too impressed by the Red Planet’s hue. It’s that not coming back around so close for several hundred years thing that gets to us, maybe more than the way it looks.

We went to the Alltel Pavillion on Labor Day night to see the Counting Crows. Labor Day is such a weird and melancholy holiday–there just to mark that it’s back to the grind and routine, even if you’re way out of school or if school’s been weirdly back in session for several weeks anyway, it’s a holiday that says ” you’ve had all the fun you’re gonna have this summer, move on, show’s over folks.” I was glummer than usual this Labor Day, sending my oldest child off to boarding school, so I don’t have much enthusiasm mounted for the show. At least we lucked out and the crowd was there to see John Mayer and not the Crows, which meant that they went first–so we knew we could leave early and wouldn’t be trapped for hours in the lot trying to get home.

But then they started playing, and that ol’ magic thing happens, when songs I haven’t heard in years come right back, and pull me back to where I was then. Granted that my summer of “Mr. Jones and Me” was an unusual time, a time of doing the deep work in therapy, where I was one big exposed emotional nerve ending, where even a mundane phone call from a parent sent me reeling back into adolescent feelings. So there I am at the concert, but I’m also back in the summer of my discontent, and also thrown back to the summers I was sad about. But that also meant that I was back in the healing, the softening into it all, the alchemical moving through it that the Counting Crows disc that I played over and over and over kept me company with. His pain, my pain, his hope, my hope, it felt so private, our connection, back then.

That’s the thing about arena shows I love–being with all these other people (there were a lot of Crows fans, too) who also have their own private relationship with the songs and the singer’s voice, from their own lives’ soundtracks, and knowing that we’re all having our own folding back of time, our own visits from our unique pasts, but they’re all a lot alike. A lot alike, believe me. And then, just in the middle of “Round Here,” and all the way through “A Long December,” out came Mars, big and bright and alone in the sky on the left of the stage. And it was pretty clearly red. Our own little driveway Mars, out there keeping the whole crowd company, before it headed off zillions of miles away.

I was so glad to see it out there, and to see the best friend I’ve had with me through all these summers, and our beautiful 12 year olds creating their own hopefully happier memories connected to these songs. And we all looked up at Mars together, and said goodbye for now, to it, to summer, to our deeper private selves that the music had tugged out. And then they finished up: I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.

Sometimes it takes a visit from a planet that won’t come back for three centuries, but sometimes it’s just a visit from an old song. But for a moment I wake up, again, and am in and with the moment, and am so glad of it. I’m ready for summer’s end, now, and commit, again, to find the moments that are so much harder to hold on to in the scurry of fall/winter/spring life. See you, Mars.