Gore Vidal many years ago suggested to Studs Terkel that he should write a book on death. Early on in his career, that morbid subject for a book didn't captivate his imagination. There were many other topics floating around in Studs' head. A lifetime of writing books has come and gone. As Studs approaches his ninetieth birthday, the topic of death and what faces us all has become more relevant. In addition, the death of Ida, his wife and companion for much of the 20th century, spurred him on to wrestle with answering the age-old question: "Will the circle be unbroken" or put in a less poetic way: Is that all there is?"
To answer the question for himself and for his most recent book, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," Studs resorts to a tried and true technique used throughout his life-that of interviewing others about what they think. His book is a collection of the thoughts of over eight thousand people. Studs has an optimistic, if not naïve, assumption that the common person has great insights into truth. He interviewed some of the shakers and movers of the world, but most of the book contains the thoughts of average Americans and their struggle with what there is after death. Some of the answers to the question are unique and thoughtful. Other answers were parochial and expected.
Studs' book offers us all an aide as we struggle with this critical of questions of life-is there life after death? Having tapped the intellects of hundreds, Studs repeatedly claims that he still doesn't know. When others and I have pushed him on this question, he darts behind the term, agnostic. Pressed still further, he just shrugs his shoulders.
I had the unique opportunity to get an insight into the way Studs dealt with the most devastating death in his life-the death of his wife, Ida. In Studs' home, he has two personal shrines to her. As you enter his dining room, you notice a buffet against the long wall. The buffet serves as an altar to his love for Ida. On the table are hundreds of letters of condolences-some opened and probably many unopened because the loss was so painful. Above the buffet, one can't help but notice a pair of photos, which serve as Studs' version of altar pictures. One of the pictures is a beautiful photo of Ida. The other picture is a funny one that reveals much of their relationship. It pictures Studs with an indifferent expression on his face while Ida attempts to give his a kiss.
The other holy place is in his living room. On a large windowsill next to his
recliner and telephone are two items, which are never far from Studs. One is
the urn with Ida's ashes as near as she was in life. The other is a vase of
fresh daisies, her favorite flowers. While these two shrines are comforting to
him, they are also testimonies to not knowing. He is able to keep Ida alive in
a small way until he discovers the answer to the question: Will the circle be