The deadline had come, and I hustled over to the editor's desk with my piece in tow. I'd just reviewed Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown, unaware that it would become the San Diego band's breakthrough album and that top-40 radio would plug its singles into such heavy rotation that, in time, its songs would nearly make me physically ill. Bleary-eyed and riveted to his monitor, my editor grunted thanks. A little later, he called me back over. "Not bad," he said, rustling the page, "but let's lose this lyric here where it sounds like they're talking about reincarnation."
I examined the part he pointed at, two lines from the song "Meant To Live": "Dreaming about Providence / And whether mice and men have second tries." Okay, I could see it. The "mice and men" part could refer to coming back as an animal in another life, and Providence had something to do with divinity. Hold on, though, the rodent bit sounded an awful lot like Robert Burns' famous aphorism. ("The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry.") And didn't Providence have a very specific meaning? (Webster would later reveal it to be "God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny.") Looking at the rest of the song, reincarnation seemed like a strange fit, particularly since the other verses referenced struggling with failure. A different interpretation began to emerge, one of wondering whether or not God, in His guiding of history, would be willing to give the world's screw ups another shot. In fact, it seemed like what the songwriter wanted me to get.
As I opened my mouth to respond, my editor said, "Okay, thanks," and thrust the review in amongst a stack of papers. I clacked my teeth together, turned and went back to my cubicle. We were looking at the same text, but our approaches were worlds apart, one of us building significance out of phrases and sentences, the other looking for the meaning that had put them there. Sure, the reader is important, as is the historical milieu in which a work was birthed and the form in which it's couched. But none of these are the primer mover, the word spoken into darkness, bringing order from chaos. That's the author. He has something to say. We should listen to him. He matters.
(Picture: CC 2007 by Darny)