The last couple of weeks have been a bit quiet in house Prufrock due to a bug I picked up somewhere. I tend not to get sick very often, but when I do, I do it properly.
The evenings therefore have found me either sleeping or doing some kind of non-thinking activity, such as watching the TV. Actually, being in Japan, I don't watch the TV (it's almost as bad as New Zealand TV), but instead watch a DVD or look at YouTube. Recently, Ken Burns's Civil War series has been my poison.
My first introduction to the series was about ten or twelve years ago. A friend who uses the internet 'creatively' had downloaded the series from somewhere free of charge, burnt the episodes onto disk and loaned them to me.
"What's that?" someone asked him as he handed them over one night at soccer.
"Oh," he said, "it's about the American Civil War."
"Why would YOU want to watch that?"
"Well, it was you Americans fighting each other. Why shouldn't we like it?"
And he was right on both counts. It was Americans fighting each other, and it was a series that even people who have no particular reason for interest in the war could find value in.
The Ken Burns documentary style, mixing period photographs, voice overs, actors reading quotes from historical figures, footage of places, and interviews with authorities, is compelling viewing. The themed structure and the variety of voices from both sides gives a sense of fairness in the telling. I may be wrong about the fairness, but it's how it seems to me when I watch it.
You are shown the movement of the war, you follow the characters chosen, hear their voices, and invest in them emotionally. It is by turns humorous, sad, uplifting and harrowing. It is always informative, humane and respectful.
Anyway, last night I was watching the ninth and last episode of the series and had been drawn into it again. You know it is coming, and you have been prepared for it with artful foreshadowing during the past few episodes, but goodness, the death of Abraham Lincoln is always hard to take.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the series is that in watching it you become a bit American too. You see the grandeur of the country and its people. You see the capacity for suffering and sacrifice. You see that we all, no matter who we are or where we are from, are invested in that last best hope and willing it still to come into the fullness of its promise.
And with that written, if you can forgive me, I must excuse myself...