Bad news

I THINK of the bad news as a huge bird — an albatross with wings of a crow, the face of Hydra with rancid teeth and a wrinkling frown.  It sails around the world under a cover of darkness, pleased to be the bearer of ill tidings.  With it always is a basket of rotten eggs, and it knows, as the sun comes up, exactly where to drop them. On me, for one.

The bad news arrives in the form of a bad newspaper. Folks liked to pass the bad news as soon as possible, get it off their hands like a hot potato.  Bad news burns them.  Now it’s right there on the table.

But there is a basic courtesy required for other’s need to wallow mindlessly, free of bad news at least, before their first cup of coffee. Just as others need to spew catastrophe, some bilious green bad news gland or bladder inside them will burst and they’ll get peritonitis of the soul if they don’t exhale halitosis of the intellect.  Others call this affliction malignant narcissism.

Is bad news worse with pictures?  I think so, as pictures make you look, whether you want to or not.  There’s the burnt out car with a skeletal frame of twisted metal, a charred shadow crouches inside, children massacred, world leaders felled by an assassin’s bullet…to end a regime. But what about character assassination, the perpetual blood sport? The one which feeds nothing noble among humans?  Not even echo can answer that.

I’m not impervious to bad news.  In my years of crime reporting, I ate tragedy and shocking news for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I had access to people’s emotional pains and tragedies. With a tourniquet in my heart, I watched careers derailed, homes fractured but I wrote it with a complete understanding of wounded souls…void of literary sarcasm.

I am not hardened by bad news, on the contrary, I am angular.  With less body fat now than I did before the Big C, I, therefore, have less capacity to absorb, cushion, to turn the calories of bad news…and it does have calories.  It raises your blood pressure into the substance of your own body.

We don’t like bad news, but we need it, We need to know about it, in case it’s coming our way. It conjures up a herd of deer in the meadow, heads down grazing, peacefully by a rippling brook. Then “woof, woof” of wild dogs in the woods.  Heads up, ears forward…prepare to flee! Or the musk ox defense, wolves approaching are the bad news. Snort and paw the ground, prepare to pierce the enemy…except that we’re humans not carnivores or brutes without souls.

A beautiful day that smells of fruits and flowers mean nothing to barbarians.  In fact, they prefer to invade beautiful days.  It provides more visibility for looting and massacre.  But they were long ago, far away and not in our lifetime, perhaps.  The barbarians of our genre are those young brainwashed in character, dreaming of 77 virgins welcoming them in paradise. These are the news that assails the nostrils like an offensive perfume and a slap on the face, while scourging the soul.

There was bad news long before we were born, and now we’ll get through it, especially if we get it early.  If you get it, understand it, then you’ll know what to do.

I’ve personally dealt with bad news. Gossips and rumors, I think. Portents, forebodings: birds in flight, like the sparrows, flitting in and out of the barn. Bad news is a sheep’s entrails.  You never know if the news is true until it pounces, until it’s on top of you, until you reach out in the night and there’s no more breathing. You’re howling in darkness. This is why some creatures can’t discriminate between healthy freedom and sick license.

But we’ve faced it head on.  I am still alright.  We have no wounds, no blood pouring out…we are not scorched.  We got through the worst bad news.

Now while everything seems to take longer than it did before, we all want to get on with our lives in spite of the bad news.

Today, on a fall morning, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, there’s no reason not to feel pretty good.

There will be other news later.  There always is, but we’ll worry about it when it comes and I don’t have to write it anymore.


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