Joni Mitchell’s classic song has enjoyed many an airing in our household over recent months - and even surfaces when we are looking for a parking spot (with words slightly adjusted) - but the lyrics of the song have always had me a little confused. I understood them to read “You pay paradise and put up a parking lot.”
It reminds me of the story about one of the Popes. Upon arrival in heaven, he's met by the reception committee, and after a whirlwind tour of the establishment, he's told that he can enjoy any of the myriad recreations available. He decides that he wants to read all of the ancient, original texts of the Holy Scriptures, and spends the next eon or so learning the languages.
After becoming a linguistic master, he sits down in the library and begins to pore over every version of the Bible, working back from the most recent "Easy Reading" to the original script. For ages, his scholarly studies keep him quietly absorbed, until one day, all of a sudden there comes an horrible scream from the library.
The angels come running to him, only to find the Pope huddled in a chair, crying to himself, and muttering despairingly, "An 'R'! They left out the 'R'!"
God takes him aside, offers him comfort and inquires what has distressed him so. After collecting his wits, the Pope sobs again, "It's the letter 'R'...the word was supposed to be CELEBRATE!"
I have to say that I felt equally foolish when I realised the words of Joni’s song: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” All of a sudden the rest of the song made sense! Entirely different meanings emerging from hearing one word differently.
How carefully we need to listen!
June 29, 2003