The news is about Jessica, our first grandchild (have a cigar; no, don't), who was born on March 1, just under 7 lbs. and 19 in. big. I hold her on the couch as she sleeps swaddled--part baby, part blanket--in the crook of my arm. Her harpist's fingers twitch in independent dreams. The threads of blue veins above her barely visible eyebrows run like rivers on a map. It comes back to you, holding babies--the surprisingly substantial weight.
The news is also about Jessica literally, in that as she sleeps, the news is on TV. As I hold Jessica, 15-year-old Charles Andrew Williams sits in the back of a police car that is about to take him to a county juvenile facility for killing two fellow students in Santee, Calif. His skin looks smoother than a baby's.
I casually realize that part of my grandfatherly duties will be to hold Jessica safe from the news, but the thought is too easy. She will also need to be alert to the news. When she is old enough, I will inform her that I am in the news business--or on the soft edges of it--and she may ask what the news business is. I will tell her that it has to do with knowing and understanding what is going on in the world.
If she demands more, of course, I will be forced to let her know that I have never understood most of the news--not the child killings, the tribal slaughters, the religious wars, the categorical hatreds, the fate of the poor, the diseased, the driven from their homes. I have never understood the weather. Not that these deficiencies have stood in the way of my sonorous brayings about the nature of the universe.
You see, Jessica, the reason that America makes guns available to children is...It's this way, Jessica: Some people live in the slums, and others live on the hills, and this is because...Look here, Jessica: The market goes up and the market goes down, and the explanation is...She is smiling now, an involuntary reflex.
Lest she laugh in my face, I should tell her that there are other kinds of news I do understand. The news of the heart's surprises, for example. I should tell her about my brother, her granduncle, who last month upped and got married for the first time to a schoolteacher from Beijing. He spent an entire life alone, and then appears the thoroughly lovely Chao Mei, and presto change-o, a heart beats. I should tell Jessica about that.
And I should also tell her about the news of the obvious truth. That took me decades to learn. As a young writer, I was the dandiest, cleverest wit and wise guy--a cinch if one possesses the meager gifts. And then after witnessing enough pain and plain courage in the world, I simply reversed course and started writing about the life before my eyes. Eventually one understands that the world is largely made up of obvious truths, lying in the open, begging to be repeated.
So I should also tell her about the news of the familiar, which is always strange. And the news of the routine and continuous, which is always shocking.