I come from an all-news-all-the-time upbringing, which might explain the bomb shelter I designed and depicted in a diorama for my sixth grade art fair. (I still believe that the only reason I won is because the other entries were either stolen or pornographic.) And not only was the news always on, it was on at ear-splitting levels, so that there was never any escaping the crime waves, the plane crashes, the floods, fighting, and financial crises that were sweeping the nation at any given moment.
From the day I moved out of my parents' house, I decided never to watch the news again. And, as it turned out, I didn't need to. Because the second something big, bad, or baffling happened, my mom would be on the phone, making sure I was informed. Of course, the Interwebz eventually complicated everything, with its urban myths and chain letters urging recipients to beware the new computer virus that would delete your recipes for potato salad, the killer that was hiding in your back seat, the cockroach that hatched inside a woman's tongue. Mom was calling me daily for several years with one form of bad news or another, until one day, I finally snapped.
"I just thought you should know," she said on a spring day in 2008, "that there's a man at the hospital who says he has a bomb strapped to his body."
"Why would I need to know that?" I scolded.
"Well, in case you're driving that way, the road might be closed," she said in her defense.
When I asked her when she was going to ever call me with good news, she said she would try to come up with something more cheerful. A few hours later, called again. "Good news!" she chirped. I could hear the pride in her voice, and so I asked her what she had for me.
"They shot the guy with the bomb." Determined to turn things around, I said, "Then I guess it's a good thing he was already at the hospital."
It's no story of the Taoist Farmer, but it's true and it's mine, and it's a testament to my mother's wisdom, whether it's intentional, channeled, or accidental. I've been thinking a lot about my family lately, and how it's going to change and move and shift, as families do after the loss of one of its members, and I cling to this memory as proof that we're all going to be fine. Story at 11.