Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good News, Bad News

I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that 9 miners got trapped in a flooded mine for 3 days. The good news is that they all got rescued! The good news is that the Stock market was up over 400 points today! The bad news is that it's down over 2000 points from a year ago. The good news is that the U.S.A won the cold war and we are effectively the world's only superpower. The bad news is that the U.S.A won the cold war and we are now the world's biggest target.

The bad news is that we are all going to die someday.

The good news is that we're alive today.

I love saying I have some good news and some bad news because it's like a mini story. It has pathos and conflict and tension with the promise of a big payoff at the end. A lot of time I say "I've got some good news and some bad news" even when I only have one or the other. Makes it more exciting.

But there is always good news and bad news no matter what. If life is especially sweet at some point in time, say like right now while you are all listening to me. I know you are sitting there in rapt bliss thinking that this is the best essay you have ever heard in your life. But there's always a flipside, there's always a shadow, there's always another shoe. In this case the bad news is that sometime about 5 minutes in the future this time of milk and honey will end and I will stop talking.

I know it's rough but that's the way life is.

On the other hand there is always a silver lining. If you can't stand a performance here at ten tops you can take solace in the fact that it will end. If you're whole life is a horrifying blur of emotional and physical pain at least you can look forward to the sweet release of death someday.

Perhaps I'm overstating my case. Or maybe understating it. Or maybe I don't have a case.

Here's the thing. When you become a parent, which I recently did, you live in a new world of extremes that, from what I understand, you never ever get out of. Being a father is really really great. My little boy brings me a huge boatload of joy every single day. I am sure that I am not unique in this. Parents always say this kind of sappy stuff and until you actually become one you don't know (or care really) what the heck they are talking about. But trust me okay. Kids are little happiness factories.

The bad news is…if you have any imagination at all you spend most of it thinking up various catastrophes that could, at any time, snatch every shred of joy from your life. I don't dwell on these things but they just naturally pop into my mind. For superstitious reasons I don't want to mention any of the dozens of horrifying scenarios that leap to mind at anyone time but if we all just take a moment and think I'm sure we can all get on the same page pretty quickly.

Ready, close your eyes. Got it? Okay lets move on.

So add to these admittedly unlikely nightmarish occurrences the nasty things that are almost certain to happen like ear infections, overpriced sneakers, terrorist nuclear attacks and puberty and you can see why parents live in a world of fear.

But see in that world of fear is an island of joy. And a big part of the reason that the joy is so sweet is that you can imagine the worst and you notice that it's not happening….at the moment.

And of course it's not just parents that feel this way. It's everyone. When you know how bad things can be you appreciate the good all the more. That's why immigrants often appreciate this country more than native born folk. They know what freedom actually is because they know what it isn't. For those of us who have been here all along liberty is like water to fishes. We don't notice. Nor do we notice plenty or justice or peace unless we suddenly don't have it.

And it's like that with everything. The really, really rich people that I've known, and I've know a few, are bored and unhappy because they don't have to do anything. Those of us who have had to work to make rent money or food money or sneaker money would be SO HAPPY if we didn't have to do anything. I recently had a really bad cold and when I got well it felt SO GOOD to feel normal again I almost was happy that I was sick.


But it's really true, I think. We notice the good in relation to the bad and if there is no bad then we don't notice the good.

I don't wanna get all polyannish on you now. We don't notice the good because good is relatively normal and the good won't sneak into our cave and eat us like a bad bad sabertoothed tiger will. There's no evolutionary reward for noticing the good and besides it's kind of boring. I find bitching and moaning much more entertaining than looking on the bright side. Have you ever met anyone who just remarked on all the good stuff that was going on all the time.

Wow. Look. A roof over our heads. And electric lights. And a nicely painted stage. And soft seats. And I have five fingers on each hand. Including an opposable thumb. Look at that! Whodathunkit!

That kind of pap doesn't make you feel good. What makes you feel good is to think about all the terrible things that aren't happening. What makes you feel really good is not to think "Hey I'm alive!" but to think "Hey! I'm not dead!" Light without darkness is boring. Light without darkness is just noon. Light peeking through the darkness is beautiful. Light and darkness is sunset, and sunrise.

So the good news is that there is bad news or there will be or there has been. The bad news is that if there was no bad news we wouldn't appreciate the good news.

So go out there and look at the sky and breath the air and thank your lucky stars that you aren't in Afganistan or Bakersfield or floating in the liquid atmosphere of Jupiter. Just be happy you weren't born with a third eye or if you were be happy you weren't born with a fourth.

Just be happy because it could be worse. And if it couldn't be worse it has to get better.

Good News, Bad News
July 29th, 2002

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