Studs Terkel

Posted: May 2, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling ponders work and life in “Sabbath.”]

The Work of Living Long – and Well

Bill Moyers wrote an open letter recently to discuss his retirement from the long-running PBS program Bill Moyers Journal.  Moyers is now 76, so his retirement might seem natural.  That assumption would be wrong.  Moyers is leaving his program because “there are some things left to do that the deadlines and demands of a weekly broadcast don’t permit.”  His decision to leave a TV program that has existed (with sabbaticals) since 1971 has nothing to do with taking it easy. 

Moyers gives us another example of a world where people don’t stop living – or working – when they retire.  I belong to a local Kiwanis club in Chicago.  Several of our retired members are active in volunteer activities, often with several groups.  Ed volunteers as a reader at local schools.  Phyllis sings with Sweet Adelines, a group that performs at public events.  Gloria knits and served for several years on the board of a local food pantry.  Life doesn’t end with retirement, and these good people help others while staying vital and active.

The late Studs Terkel embodied a life lived long and well.  He never stopped working.  Terkel loved listening to people and writing their stories.  He even found time to write memoirs of his interesting life.  He’d frequently tell interviewers that he wanted his epitaph to be: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”  Similarly, the great coach John Wooden has produced several books – in his nineties!  While Wooden’s books touch many bases, his primary concern is leadership, bringing principles that made him a great basketball coach to all aspects of life. 

There was a time when retirement meant golf or shuffleboard.  Longer life spans and better medical care allow many seniors to live active lives into their eighties and nineties.  Moyers captures this spirit when he writes, “‘Time brings everything,” an ancient wise man said.  Including new beginnings.”  A young 76, Moyers is following his heart to pursue new beginnings.  What a lesson for those of us who are younger!  Happy Sabbath.

Posted: April 4, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature that explores how work impacts all aspects of our lives.]

The Work of Faith

Whether or not one is religious, Easter is a good day to think about faith – and how it works in our lives.  For many people, religious faith defines their lives.  All of us – even atheists – use faith as a tool in the work of our lives. 

In the most simple definition, faith is the act of accepting something without evidence or certainty. In personal and professional relationships, we often act in faith that our partners will do the right thing.  We don’t know what challenges or opportunities the future will put before us.  The company that was home for 20 years surprises us with a pink slip.  The husband or wife who would never cheat is caught in an affair.  The can’t miss investment misses. 

Faith disappoints as often, maybe more often, than it rewards.  Even so, we can’t live without it.  John Lennon said, “Life happens while we’re busy making plans.”  The plans are what we hope will happen.  We adjust to the disappointments and move on.  Sometimes, the sadness is too deep and faith turns to anger or despair.  We’ve all met people who can’t let go of the hurt.  At it’s deepest level, this sorrow manifests itself in suicide, which Albert Camus called, “an act of the heart,” the heart that has lost hope.

About a year ago, all of the wise people told us the sky was falling.  We were entering a second Great Depression.  So far, these wise people have been wrong.  GDP is positive, the stock market is back at pre-crisis level, and this month there was finally a net gain in jobs.  During the real Great Depression, FDR challenged American with the words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Fear is faith turned inside out.  Rather than believing things will turn out well, we convince ourselves that the worst will happen.  The media loves to play on fear and bad news.  It’s an easy story to tell – and sell.  Believing in something or someone is much harder because it requires strength to weather the disappointment and the hard times.

The most important person we need to have faith in is ourselves.  Can I do this?  Am I good enough?  Do I deserve this?  We all ask these questions.  Winners are the people who find the strength to answer themselves with a firm, “Yes.”  They fail, and they fall – still they get up and push forward.  Their strength is based on a confidence in themselves and the future. 

The late Studs Terkel is a great example of a person who kept faith in himself and the world.  Studs was a leading personality in TV’s early years.  Then disaster struck.  Terkel was caught up in the communist witch hunts of the 1950s and blacklisted from TV.  He returned to Chicago and spent many years on the radio, conducting intelligent, probing interviews with artists, thinkers, and politicians.  In the 1960s, he began to write books based on interviews with normal Americans.  Fame found him again.  He won the Pulitzer Prize and was honored as man of letters.  Terkel died recently, having lived into his nineties.  He never stopped writing, and told interviewers that he wanted this line written on his tombstone:  “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

Terkel’s spirit and life embody what Emerson called “self-reliance.”  This virtue in not simply the ability to take care of yourself, rugged individualism.  It is more deeply a self-understanding that has its roots in faith in something bigger than the individual.  Each of us has the genius and spirit needed to live a happy life.  It’s not a matter of luck.  It starts with work – and faith.

As Tavis Smiley says, “Keep the Faith.”

Sunday Extras:

Here are some links to material about Studs Terkel.

The Chicago History Museum’s Site on Studs Terkel

A video of Studs Terkel being interviewed by William F. Buckley

Posted: August 30, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

I’m not a religious person.  Even so, the idea of the Sabbath intrigues me.  We live in a 24/7 society that never stops.  One of my good friends is an engineer.  He takes work calls at home on nights and weekends.  Many professionals do the same.  The cell phone and computer tie them to the job, especially in a global market where business partners in China and India work while we sleep.

 How can we escape this situation?  We probably can’t.  That said, I want to use my Sunday posts to consider work and what it means to be free of work – Sabbath, a day of rest. 

 My inspiration is a great American writer who has never won the respect he deserves:  Wendell Berry.  Berry’s poems which he has collected in books with the title Sabbaths explore how we can find peace in a harried world.  Here is a stanza that embodies that quest:

The mind that comes to rest is tended

In ways that it cannot intend:

Is borne, preserved, and comprehended

By what it cannot comprehend.

In the weeks to follow, I want to look at Robert Frost, Studs Terkel, and others who have written about work and rest.  I’ll also reflect on some of my own experiences that have made me realize that while we must work, there is more to life than working.