One Good Term Here On Earth
I have always felt a special connection to former US President Jimmy Carter, and for the dumbest reason possible. Some years after his presidency - a presidency I was pretty much oblivious to due to a shallowness resulting from my young age and the sort of self-absorption that blooms with profusion when one is lacking in life experience - I found myself on an airplane from Los Angeles to Atlanta. It’s a four hour plus flight, so to spend the time profitably I had brought along a piece of needlepoint that I was doing as a Christmas present for a family member. Somewhere over the mid-west I was happily stitching away, cozy in my normal state of inattention, when I felt bit of electricity in the air around me. Looking up from my aisle seat I saw my fellow passengers sitting a bit straighter, all eyes directed to the front of the plane. The recirculated air was quiet, but electric, with expectation. Suddenly, as though someone had opened up a jar of irritated flies, black-suited men began to pour down both sides of the plane, gravely serious faces turning this way and that, sharp eyes focusing everywhere and nowhere at once. This managed to capture my interest.
As one particularly tall member of this line passed my seat I found myself looking up into the face of former president Jimmy Carter. To my stunned amazement, he stopped. Smiling, he bent forward to better see the needlepoint I had suddenly forgotten I had. He asked me who it was for, and I think I told him. Then he looked at me, directly into my eyes, and in a warm, grand-fatherly way he reached out and touched my cheek. “You’re very pretty”, he said.
Now, I don’t take compliments well, especially those about my appearance. I have a tendency to argue with the those kind enough to bestow one upon me. I’ll point out my flaws, make a flippant remark about the inadequate strength of their eyeglasses, and blush like a beet, all of which makes the person fervently rue their kindness. However, faced with a compliment like this from a man like this, I did not launch into my usual list of rebuttals. I’m sure I blushed brightly, and I hope, God how I hope, I managed to thank him. I only told The Songwriter about it and, though I’m well aware that we’re all pretty when we’re that young, I have held that compliment in my heart like a secret ever since.
Through the years I have, thankfully, become more aware. I now know my place in this big crowded world and each day I try to make a small difference in the way that it spins. I have also watched this former president make his faith in a good God tangible and real. Jimmy Carter has filled every day in happy effort to effect a positive change. Rather than spending his evenings on the banquet circuit reeling in high-figure honorariums to flesh out his bank account, or his days painting by numbers in the sunshine, this former president as been working to eradicate a hideous disease in Africa. He has been traveling far and wide in his effort to ensure countries in conflict have free and democratic elections. His has been building houses for the homeless. He has been a tireless champion of the rights for women. He has written twenty-nine books. His professed faith has been quickened by his tireless, hopeful, work.
Naturally, like many others, I was saddened to hear of Jimmy Carter’s recent cancer diagnosis. It brought me back to the day on that plane, which seems like only yesterday, and it reinforced how fleeting our time really is. But it also reminded me of the grandness, the sheer scope, of life and how shameful it is to waste a minute of it in incuriosity or cynicism. He began treatment yesterday and there is every hope that President Carter has many, many days left to serve out his term here on Earth. Oh, and he will be teaching Sunday School this coming Sunday in his home church in Georgia.
Signs lining the roadway to welcome President Carter's return home today.
Find Jimmy Carter’s latest book,
A Full Life - Reflections at Ninety, HERE.