Saturday, October 1, 2016
“A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety,” by Jimmy Carter
Off the sale table, I picked up a copy of President Carter’s latest memoir. Unlike many of his previous works, reading through “A Full Life” is much like sitting down with my wife’s late father – one who is willing to tell all the little stories that come to mind, stories that might or might not have been told before. So many of the tales are engaging and you can’t get enough.
Chapters are arranged chronologically but within each are paragraph-to-page long reflections and reminiscences ranging from growing up poor in rural Georgia to Carter’s ever-unfolding, ever-widening view of the world. He speaks of the successes and disappointments of his presidency and shares his post-presidential interests both across the world and at home. I found that as Mr. Carter laid out his accounts, rancor was absent and judgment about those with whom he interacted was left up to me. Which is not to say he doesn’t hold strong opinions about folks who have succeeded him in the Oval Office and the world’s corridors of power. But, we find, one can disagree with the actions and views of an opponent and still treat that rival with dignity and respect.
I closed the book reminded of how this humble man brought his Christian beliefs with him and used those tenets as guideposts not only for much of what he did as president, but more importantly, what he has done as a human being.
Note: Several years ago while living in the Sacramento area, the publisher of the Sacramento Bee asked a rhetorical question: “When did we as a society become so self-centered?” My reply was this: “I don’t know when we became so self-centered, but I believe it occurred sometime in the twenty years between when a president suggested, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,’ and another presidential candidate asked: ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’”
Much occurred in those twenty years as those of us who lived through them will attest: three assassinations, a questionable war, a summer of love, a presidential resignation; and the result was a nation unsure of itself populated by a growing number of individuals for whom the term “greater good” equated with “self.”
Jimmy Carter was arguably the last president who lead us during times less polarized politically, times more aligned with the ideals of outlined in the Preamble and upon which our nation was founded. He worked with Congress and seemed more interested in service than prestige. I recall that economic cycles and the downfall of an American-propped middle-eastern strong man conspired to end Carter’s presidency after one term.
It could be argued that the result of the wave that swept Carter out of office has led us to become a nation of disenfranchised have-nots, angry about a what-might-have-been that was never realistically attainable (big house, second home, fancy car, speed boat, no debt) and concerned more about our personal dominions than the future of a once viable “shining light on the hill” that a successor seemed to talk so much about.
The Church of the Open Road recommends this book to those of us who recall Mr. Carter’s administration and for the generation(s) following. It is a primer on values, justice, compromise, and, an elusive greater good.
“A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety.” Jimmy Carter. Simon and Schuster. 2015. $28.