I’m not impervious to bad news. In my years of crime reporting, I ate tragic, earthy 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 and homes fractured, but I wrote it with 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 — and therefore with less capacity to absorb, cushion, and turn the calories of bad news (and it does have calories), it raises your blood pressure into the substance of your own body.
I think of the bad news as a huge bird, an albatross with wings of a crow, the face of Hydra, rancid teeth and a wrinkling frown that is sailing around the world under the cover of darkness pleased to be the bearer of ill tidings. It carries a basket of rotten eggs and knowing, as the sun comes up, exactly where to drop them — on me, for one.
Folks liked to pass the bad news as soon as possible and 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 others’ need to wallow mindlessly, just as others need to spew catastrophe. Otherwise, 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. Pictures make you look, whether you want to or not. There’s the burned car with a skeletal frame of twisted metal as 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? That which feeds nothing noble among humans? Not even an echo can answer that.
We don’t like bad news, but we need it. We need to know about it in case it comes our way. It conjures up a herd of deer in the meadow with their heads down grazing, peacefully by a rippling brook. Then there are wild dogs in the woods. Wolves approaching are the bad news; they snort and paw the ground preparing to horn the enemy, except that these were humans, not carnivores or brutes without souls.
A beautiful day that smells of fruits and flowers means nothing to barbarians. In fact they prefer to invade on 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. This is the news that assails the nostrils like an offensive perfume, a slap on the face that scourges the soul.
There was bad news long before we were born, and now we’ll get through it, especially if we get the bad news early. If you got it and understood it, then you’ll have known what to do.
I’ve personally dealt with bad news. Gossip and rumors, I think. Portents, forebodings: birds in flight, like the sparrows, flitting in and out of the barn, bad news are sheep’s entrails. You never know if the news is true until it pounces on top of you or until you reach out in the night and there’s no more breathing. You’re howling in darkness and some creatures can’t discriminate between healthy freedom and sick license…even an echo cannot answer that.
But we’ve faced it head on. I am still alright. We have no wounds and blood pouring out and 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. Sometimes we can’t take too much of it.
Today, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and there’s no reason not to feel pretty good. The bad news comes from so far away — most of them explosions, the oil spills, the genocides and famine. 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!
E-mail Mylah at firstname.lastname@example.org