Few Americans would call Jimmy Carter a model president.
But yesterday he offered us a model for facing where we’re all heading: death.
“I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he told news media yesterday in Atlanta, discussing for 40 minutes, frankly and often even jovially, his terminal cancer diagnosis. “I do have a deep religious faith, which I’m very grateful for.”
Doctors now believe new treatments could prolong his life. But even when he believed he had just a few weeks to live, Carter, 90, said, “I didn’t go into an attitude of much despair or anger or anything like that … I was just completely at ease.”
He called what’s next for him “a new adventure,” and said of his future, “Now I feel that it’s in the hands of God.”
In many ways, Carter’s press conference was typical of one of most extraordinary post-presidential careers ever: gracious, honest, humorous, and humble. Yet Carter, post-presidency, has written almost 30 books, including one on “The Virtues of Aging” and another called “Living Faith.” He spoke yesterday at the Carter Center, the nonprofit he began in 1982 to deal with global democracy and disease. One disease he mentioned is Guinea worm. The center maintains it has helped reduce it from millions of cases in Asia and Africa in the mid-1980s to just 126 cases last year. Not satisfied, Carter quipped, “I’d like the last Guinea worm to die before I do.”
He has also worked tirelessly for women’s rights and equality. Last month, he said Jesus would support gay marriage. Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds housing for the poor, has been another central cause. Carter said he hopes to be well enough to travel with the organization Nepal in the fall. Meanwhile, he plans to teach his regular Sunday school class this weekend.
Carter also said that President Obama, former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry have all called him to wish him well. Then he added, laughing, with characteristic humility, that it was the “first time they’ve called me in a long time.”
The verse from Micah 6:8 comes so quickly to mind about the sum of a great man’s life:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?