I heard a most awe-inspiring press conference today among former President Jimmy Carter and the Washington press corps. Mr. Carter disclosed information regarding his recent cancer diagnosis, and was sharing his feelings about the end of his life, which is coming, unexpectedly, much too soon, though he is now 90. Not suffering from pancreatic cancer, which claimed his father, mother, and siblings, Mr. Carter has melanoma, which showed itself within his body rather than on his skin.
Many of you will remember President Carter’s being called an ineffectual leader, one who couldn’t rescue American hostages from the Iranian Embassy in the months before the election that gave us Ronald Reagan as our next President. Embarrassed today, I remember my extremely judgmental evaluation of Mr. Carter in those years, embarrassed especially in light of his magnificent work over the past several years toward trying to save the people of this planet from themselves.
Mr. Carter was clear in his attempt to govern using the application of the Golden Rule: Treat others as we wish to be treated. He openly disclosed his religious beliefs, including that he was a “born again Christian,” meaning that he had “accepted Jesus Christ as [his] Lord and Savior” as an adult. He confessed to having committed “adultery in [his] heart” by looking upon women other than his wife of now 70 years with “lust.” He willingly admitted that he modeled his life in the way he thought God would want. And he tried to do that in the administration of this country’s government.
And what did he get for these admissions of faith? Our country called him “weak,” and laughed at him for his beliefs. The Speaker of the House at the time, Tip O’Neill, said that President Carter just didn’t know how to play the game of “Washington,” and did little to help Mr. Carter’s attempts to make this country better through legislation.
After Mr. Carter had lost his election, and after Ronald Reagan had finished his two terms in office, I remember hearing Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker on “Designing Women” ranting about how both of the former Presidents had spent their time out of office.
Jimmy Carter, she pointed out, had spent his time building a coalition to bring Habitat for Humanity, democracy, and peace to the world; Ronald Reagan had spent his time collecting millions of dollars in speaking fees. The show was meant to be a comedy, but I was brought up short recognizing the truth of her statements. Jimmy Carter, since his defeat in 1980, has spent his time trying to make peace in the world and to bring dignity to those who have none. He has made his life mean something.
How many of us can say the same thing about our lives?
Of course, most of us don’t have the opportunity to bring about peace to warring factions, or oversee the end of the plague of the Guinea Worm, which the Carter Center has been instrumental in doing. But we do have the opportunity to act within our faith. We have the opportunity to say what we believe and act according to that belief. That doesn’t mean that we ask the government to apply or use certain religious standards. It means that we ask the government to act fairly, with justice, giving respect to each person, which is what Mr. Carter tried to do.
And at the end, we might be able to say, as Jimmy Carter said today, “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes … I do have a deep religious faith, which I’m very grateful for.” And guess what Jimmy Carter is going to do on Sunday. He’s going to teach his Sunday School class. I wish, oh, I wish, that I could be there. For at the end, I would like to be able to say that I have done something on par with what Jimmy Carter has done. I would love to think that I have been able to do something that has brought some good to the world. If only.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.