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The Lost Art

by Alexander Green



Friday, May 29, 2009


Dear Reader,


According to A.C. Nielson Co., the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day. That's two months of nonstop television per year.


In a 65-year life, that person will have spent nine years glued to the tube.


The same study found that the amount of time per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children is 3.5 minutes. The average time children spend watching TV each week? 1,680 minutes.


Parents often wonder how they can better relate to their kids, how they can combat the coarsening effects of modern culture.


May I suggest the off button?


Surrounded by cable television, DVDs, CD players, cell phones, PDAs, iPods, satellite radio, video games and the Internet, a young person might reasonably ask what adults did before the age of electronic media.


In truth, we spent more time visiting friends and neighbors, took long walks, learned musical instruments, gave dinner parties and dances, went fishing, played chess or checkers.


And we read.


We read to become informed. We read to be entertained. We read as a noble intellectual exercise.


And because reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body, we thought better, expressed ourselves more clearly, wrote with greater style and refinement.


This kind of literacy can turn everyday communication into a kind of poetry. (Compare the Lincoln/Douglas debates, for example, to the current quality of political discourse.)


We also engaged in the lost art of conversation. In language filled with wit and intelligence, we spent time talking about our interests, argued the pressing issues of the day, wondered aloud about great mysteries, told each other our dreams, and let those around us know how we felt about them.


As an example of both the higher sentiments and greater literacy of an earlier age, here is a letter from Sullivan Ballou, a 32-year-old soldier in the Union Army, to his 24-year-old wife:


July 14, 1861


Camp Clark, Washington


My very dear Sarah:


The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days-perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more...


Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.


The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness...


But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights... always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again...


Ballou was killed in the first battle of Bull Run a week later.


Carpe Diem,



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