The Welcome Wagon (Inspiration Series, #30)

David (on the right) has spent a lifetime making connections that count, including with husband Robert.


David Kilmnick first entered my orbit (or perhaps more accurately, I entered his), in my second year of college. Of all the things I’d thought about doing, pledging wasn’t one. But most of my friends had joined this co-ed fraternity, and though i didn’t exactly meet the qualifications, I was invited anyway. After a lifetime of feeling unsure about where (or whether) I fit in, the idea of joining a group gave me a hope for belonging like I had never felt before.

At the heart of the experience was David, who led our little group through the trials and tribulations of pledging. It was all very hush-hush, more than a little stressful for a girl with more than her fair share of insecurities. 

He had a laugh unlike any I’d ever heard–it was loud and silly, a signal that fun was about to start. During the first few weeks, he seemed to recognize my nervousness. I was far more anxious than was reasonable, but throughout the stretch of 8 weeks or so, I could count on him to talk me down off the ledge. I got more than one calming note and advice to relax. 

Once we had passed all the tests, I entered a time that to this day, holds some of my fondest memories. As one of the main leaders of this merry troupe, David played the roles of organizer, pep squad, and all-around fun-maker. Nearly every party included something that he got going – his irrepressible personality was made to engage people and bring them into the action. For someone who’d been craving a community their whole life, it was incredible to feel this kind of connection to people. If we were a small town, David was definitely the Mayor. 

Like so many others, I lost touch with all but a few close college friends after graduation. I wasn’t one of those people who went back for homecoming or got involved in a lot of alumni activities. So when Facebook came into my consciousness almost 10 years ago, seeing the old faces who were such a big part of the best years of my life was especially fun. I’m not sure who friended who, but suddenly, there was his face again. And after all those years, it still made me smile.

David had continued his path as a welcomer, and had found a way to do it that was beyond what I could have imagined. He was the founder and leader of a Long Island-based group dedicated to helping LGBT youth. Over the last two decades LIGALY has provided support and services to hundreds of thousands. The larger LGBT Network he currently directs runs programs focused on health, employment, housing for seniors – if it’s an issue for someone, David’s likely got it covered. 

It’s a huge responsibility and his role encompasses more than just being the guy welcoming those who need a place to be heard and helped. And yet, as I watched his interviews, his speeches, and read his posts, what struck me most is how he radiated that same acceptance I felt as an unconfident college kid desperate to fit in.

He’s been all over the country – the world – as a speaker on LGBT issues and has won multiple awards for his efforts. David is often who networks call for reaction to events and he has worked with high-profile public figures to maximize the impact of his group’s initiatives. 

Among his accomplishments is putting together the first suburban prom for LGBT youth in the US. I don’t know if he attended, but I can see him out on the floor urging everyone to have a great time. Another recent event was especially close to my heart. Anyone who knows David knows he loves his his sports teams, so when he coordinated with the Mets on a Pride Night at Citifield, I imagined him cheering on his team with the boisterous glee of a kid, even as he celebrated such a momentous occasion. 

In a world where we are tempted to stick to our safe spaces, folks who make it their mission to be that friendly face, who let us now we’re not alone, are like a gift from the Universe. Those of us lacking in natural self-esteem often count on them to not only be nice, but to accept and encourage us to be more than mere observers in this life. 

One of the many amazing people David has known is the late Edie Windsor, whose role as plaintiff in the case United States v. Windsor, which successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States. While it doesn’t surprise me in the least, I am still a bit awed by David’s proximity to such incredible leaders. 

The world needs as many people as possible looking out for and lifting up others. Using their gifts to show the less brave among us that despite how it may sometimes feel, we are not alone; that there are folks out there waiting to be the outstretched hand that says “Come on in.” Those who know David can rely on his to be there. 

I leave you with a quote from Ms. Windsor, whose personal victory was one for so many she’d never meet:

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Getting it Done (Inspiration Series, #29)

Finishing her book wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but Deidra Parrish Williams saw it through.

In another lifetime, I might not have gotten to know Deidra Parrish Williams. We didn’t grow up together, or attend the same college, or hang out in the same places. But social media, combined with a few interactions, put her into my orbit.

I’ll be honest. At first, I simply saw this gorgeous gal with a beautiful family and passions for many of the things I cared about, too. She was open with her feelings about things going on in the world, and the kind of person who seemed to naturally boost up those around her. 

She shared the journey when she moved from the northeast down to North Carolina–including encounters that seemed to be straight out of an old version of America, but is still all too real. Deidra is one of those rare people who is honest about her doubts and frustrations with the world while still exuding a sense of calm and optimism that I am sure enlightens everyone around her. I know it does me.

What I didn’t know about Deidra was that in addition to her many roles, she was also working on becoming the thing that sets my spirit afire. An author. Yep, in addition to everything else, the woman can write.

I watched this past summer as The Current’s Whisper came into being. The Facebook posts went from the “It’s coming!” To “It’s here!” It was, quite simply, a wonder to behold; even more so when I learned that behind this incredible achievement were some familiar feelings of nervousness and self-doubt. 

Because you see, this was not a short-term project. What I imagined had been a straight road was actually a winding one that had taken 15 years to travel. Deidra told me about how, while the idea for the story had come pretty quickly, the mechanics of putting it together were not so simple.

“I wasn’t exactly sure how i was going to get the basic storyline to develop into an entire book,” she says. “I put it down a hundred times over the years. I was intimidated at times and I questioned whether i could pull off the kind of story I wanted to deliver. Something rich and evocative.”

She says it was about 10 years in that she felt something different–the story started to come together and she became invested in finishing. That’s when she put herself on the line, began telling people about her goal and asked those closest to her to keep her accountable. She also read other books to remind herself that she too, could do it.

The support, combined with Deidra’s determination, worked. She brought her characters–especially protagonist Kyle, who deals with a veritable trove of family secrets and personal pains–to life, weaving a story of past and present that isn’t always comfortable to read. It is, above all, honest and real. 

As a writer who dreams of creating such things, holding her book was like what a minor leaguer must feel like holding a World Series ring. I could almost hear the voice saying, “You can do it too.”

And that, I think, is a key to Inspirers. The dedication they show–whether to a craft, to a dream, or to making a difference–speaks to those of us out here still doubting that we have it in us. They remind us of the value of our gifts by sharing theirs.

Deidra passed along a quote from her grandfather that has stayed with her.

“Constant drippings make impressions.” 

I’d like to think that’s a lesson for anyone who has a hard time seeing how their little efforts will ever pay off. 

I take extra hope from the advice Deidra has for those of us still on the fence about our ability to tell our own stories:


To learn more about Deidra and all she does, visit her website at www.DeidraParrishWilliams.com


Keeping it Real (Inspiration Series, Week 28)

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, made his expectations clear after a racial incident at the school.

There’s no such thing as a slow news day anymore. One of the challenges, as things seem to move ever-faster and feel ever-crazier, is to sift among the latest headlines and pick up the stories that resonate beyond the latest person to say something nuts.

I don’t know a lot about General Jay Silveria’s past. His Air Force bio and online snippets talk mostly about his military career – 32 years of service and leadership in some of the world’s most dangerous spots. He was Vice Commander of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and previously served as Deputy Commander USAF Central Command. He’s logged more than 3,900 flight hours and received numerous honors, including the Pentagon’s highest award for service outside combat.

My guess is that the General didn’t expect to make headlines – the high-ranking men and women of the military seem to share a humility that doesn’t seek attention. They put their troops first, their country first. And so, when he confronted an incident at the Academy’s preparatory school, he likely wasn’t thinking about how far his response might reach.

“Incident” is a nice word for the racial slurs that were scrawled on the dormitory-room message boards of five black students. As he gathered all 4,000 cadets, along with 1500 faculty and staff members, the 3-Star General was blunt. 

“That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged, not only as an airman, but as a human being.”

It was a 5-minute speech that didn’t shy away from recent events and the racial tensions they represented. He mentioned the NFL protests and Ferguson, and referenced a talk by the Dean following the march by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Silveria was very obviously angry. His tone relayed the seriousness of what had taken place and he was in no mood to do anything less than condemn it. And yet, even with the classic military gravitas in place, the General spoke to higher goals. 

“But I also have a better idea, and it’s about our diversity . . . It’s the power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, that we come from all backgrounds, gender, all make-up, all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”

It was striking. With no exposure or real understanding of the military, I’ve always simply seen it as this narrow place of rules, regulations, and prescribed behavior that allows no deviation. They say, you do. But even as Silveria denounced what had happened, he took the time to openly acknowledge wounds that have become a national topic of conversation and communicate a vision for the academy that looks forward.

So much of the time, we look to eliminate the things that make us different. I know that as someone who yearns for a conflict-free life, it is often most comfortable to quietly urge peaceful resolution at all cost. It has made me a generally nice person, but too often, it leaves me hesitant to speak out or make waves. 

By not just reducing a racist act to an ordinary infraction – and by actively extolling the very diversity it tried to destroy – Silveria took center stage as a leader who could be trusted to value each cadet’s history and the strengths that come from their individual life experiences. The goal is not simply to melt everyone down into a monolith, but to create a team where each person contributes to a greater whole.

Putting a point on it all, the General advised his audience to take out their phones and record what he had to say next. It was a simple message for those who couldn’t deal with his vision. For me, the get-along girl, it was a ln important reminder of the impact a few unambiguous words can have:

“If you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

No further words needed. If you missed the complete speech, check it out here. 


Superheroes Never Sleep   (Inspiration Series, week 27)

Take the imagination of George Lucas and mix it with the stamina of George Washington and the whimsy of Jim Henson, and you get Marcus Stricklin.

The first (and only) time I saw Marcus Stricklin was in a Vegas hotel. It always surprises me a little, realizing that though it feels like I’ve shared many experiences – wonderful and tragic – with him, we’ve shared the same air space just once. Despite the brevity of our meeting (which, in fairness, included the most kickass wedding of the 21st century), i don’t exaggerate when I say he’s had a pretty profound affect on me. 

I won’t give a bio on Marcus – he’s a brilliant storyteller and doesn’t need me for that. In fact, he’s written about his past, including the challenges of a childhood spent as a self-professed geek who sometimes caught the attention of 6-foot-plus dudes that could only be thwarted by genius. I highly recommend finding him on Medium, where he’s told some of the best tales – he reaches back into his life and makes you feel like you were with him through each experience. 

I don’t think I saw him without a smile during the wedding weekend. When we got back home and did the requisite friending on Facebook, I soon realized that this guy, this writer, was the real deal. 

He seemed to put out copy as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I’d wake up at 7:30 in New Jersey and be so proud of myself for an early start until I saw that Marcus – three hours behind in Arizona -had already begun. I worked on never-to-be-completed stories as he developed scripts, then cast, filmed, and produced them. I’ve always been a bit of an Eeyore, but suddenly there was this long-distance Tigger, bouncing around and doing everything I said I wanted to achieve. 

And then, Marcus hit a slump. For reasons I didn’t yet understand, he was sad, and seemingly unable to shake the demons. A mutual friend let me in on the fact that the happy guy I’d met was, in fact, a much more complicated man with dark shadows that threatened to overtake him. His beloved brother had been killed. He lost his mother way too soon, and “enjoyed” the kinds of fraught relationships with other family members that tend to send us writers to the page or to the bottle. 

I can’t say whether Marcus has been on any benders, at least not that kind. But he has shared the traumas of depression, of loss, and of feeling as though there are no good things left to say. There was a time when it seemed that despite being adorable and brilliant, he might not find his way forward to the kind of life his brother and mother would certainly wish for him.

And then, like all good superheroes, he rose back up, even finding the girl. But she lived across the country – and came with three young kids! My inner self, schooled on the art of not taking risks, watched in both amazement and fear as Marcus’ relationship with Natasha (who I’ve never met but kinda adore), grew and grew some more.

He was moving. She was moving. I could barely keep up, but next thing I knew there was a wedding coming! The guy who a few years earlier had lamented his singlehood was now not just going to be a husband, but a father of four, giving his son Jordan a gaggle of giggly girls to love and to adore him. 

They married. They moved their new family to Arizona. And Marcus began to chronicle the craziness of his newfound joys – from a near-disaster at White Barn to YouTube cooking videos with the kids. Life seemed to have reached a high point. 

But all good superheroes have an equally persistent nemesis, and Marcus’ demons did not go quietly. He actually quit writing during his engagement, and it took more than two months to get back, when his creativity decided it would no longer be imprisoned. And back he roared –  he was soon writing, directing, and once again serving as a mentor and role model to his many fans, friends, and partners. 

That’s another strength – encouraging everyone around him. Whether as a script doctor, producing partner, or director, he stands by those willing to take the leap. From dusk to dawn, he’ll be on set or online with ideas, motivation, and an insistence on getting the work done. 

I’d already pretty much confirmed Marcus’ greatness when word came that he and Natasha were adding on to their family of six. As if part of a movie script, these two incredible families, already bonded, would now share a tiny new soul that connects them at an even deeper level. It should surprise no one that when Finnegan Mario (for his father’s beloved brother) Stricklin entered the world, he was toasted and feted as the son of a superhero should be. 

Many of my inspirers have been people who choose. While huge swaths of us mortals wait for the sign, for the right time and circumstances, the brave ones forge ahead. Not just though blue skies or across green fields, but through the mud of disappointment, the valleys where darkness pervades. They may take a moment to wallow, but there is always a next step back onto the path and into the light.

As I work to become one of these people, I give a toast today to the ones, like Marcus,  who remind us that superheroes are not just in the movies – they are in our lives and ready to help us uncover our own best selves. 


Dear Mom (Inspiration Series, Week 26)

The one word that seems to sum up Mom’s impact on the world is kindness.


Dear Mom,

I’ve been writing this year. Well, to be honest, I was writing until, somewhere in July, I kind of stopped. 

It’s my first attempt at something significant in awhile – a blog series on people who’ve inspired me. After a good start, I missed some weeks, then more. I realized getting stuck seemed to happen most when I tried to pick people who had done great things, as opposed to ones who touched something in me. 

No one touches me, even all these years later, more than you. It’s crazy to think that this month, you will have been gone for 35 years. I only had you in my life for 14. And while your absence doesn’t cause the same deep pain it once did, I think about you all the time – who you were, what you’d think of the world, and how things might be different if you’d been here longer.

What choices might I have made if I hadn’t spent a third of my childhood with someone battling alcoholism and depression? If you’d been able to work on your dreams, would I have been able to create bigger ones for myself? Though I can’t know if I’d have had more confidence, felt less fear, I believe that having your guiding hand on my shoulder could have helped me be a bit braver, more excited about the opportunities that lay ahead.

Instead, a mix of grief and natural reticence led to a lot of “comfort” decisions. I eschewed taking chances for safety, and while there are things and people I can’t imagine my life without, I still wonder about what might have been had I pushed myself, found more courage when confronting challenges.

This blog… as I mentioned, it’s about Inspirers – people who, through word or action, make me think about doing more, being more. I’ve had Dad, and Nana & Granddaddy, along with some famous people as subjects. And now, it’s time for you, the woman who, despite her short presence in my life, has probably influenced me more than any other person.

It sounds weird, but I don’t have any concrete memories of you. I can’t hear your voice, and am not really able to picture you, even as I do other people from those early years. Perhaps it’s trauma; someday, perhaps I’ll be able to pull the images out. But here’s the thing, and what led me to choose you as my Inspirer this week. As far from 1982 as we are, there are a lot of people who do remember you. And many are still in my life.

When I posted your picture on Facebook to commemorate your birthday, the response was fast and remarkable. Person after person commented – and whether it was as a Girl Scout leader or a neighborhood mom, the consensus was pretty clear. 

You made people feel special. They recalled how our house was always open to all the kids and how there was always a friendly face to welcome them. Girls remembered the crafts you taught, guys remember you and Dad serving as chaperones on great weekend outings. 

I believe that the remembrances are a tribute to you, to the values you instilled and the way you lived and loved. Because you did it so clearly and openly, there are many here to attest to your wonderful legacy. 

You were sweet, they say. Kind and warm. I remember someone once remarking that you had a soft spot for kids and animals and that nothing angered you more than their mistreatment. Those who needed your caring, and perhaps a smidge of protection, were extra special to you.

Your welcoming nature, though, was even more important in ways I’ve only recently learned. I was so happy when kids my age moved onto our block. Now I know that some in the neighborhood weren’t thrilled with a black family moving in. It warmed my heart to hear how you made sure they knew they were welcomed by our family. 

So many people have told me that they loved our annual New Year’s Day open house – another example of your hospitality – that featured your reubens and onion sandwiches. They’re still being made by many. I had lunch with one of your best friends awhile ago. She gave me one of your recipe index cards – that bubbly handwriting is one thing I do remember well, I treasure it.

Though there were things that took over your life – things I likely will never fully understand – I take pride in your acts of bravery. Marrying a “foreigner,” being the first in your family to move away from your childhood home to what must have seemed so far away. And then, after starting your family in New York City, relocating to Teaneck, a town that was making a name for itself – it may not have been perfect but it was mighty special, and something I’ve only begun to appreciate. 

Genes are an odd thing. Though we spent a short time together, I believe that I am very like you. I know we have the same look – people commented on how much this picture I used of you looks like me. 

But I got more than your eyes and premature gray. I inherited a sensitivity (sometimes it feels like fragility) that means I get frustrated easily, especially when things seem unfair or it seems people are being mistreated. I cry pretty quickly – over tv shows, diary entries, and pictures of you as a young woman. I take great offense if I feel I’ve been wronged and wonder if you did. I’ve gotten better at forgiveness, though can still be very stubborn. Does that sound familiar? 

Your family has grown, Mom, in ways that might have been hard to imagine 35 years ago. Your descendants include a stunning mix of the most beautiful people, every one of whom you would adore. I wonder if you could have imagined our diversity when you set down roots… I have no doubt you’d be proud. 

When I turned 45, I visited your grave. Outliving your lifespan felt odd. I thought it might bring closure, but it was tough – there was no path to follow anymore. It made me realize just how young you were. There was so much left to do. 

It was actually easier in the old days, when I could hold on to anger at you for abandoning me when I needed you most. But though I still don’t fully understand what happened and why, I do get feeling so badly that it just doesn’t seem worth the fight. It can be exhausting. I wish we could have helped you more back then, told you how much we needed you to keep fighting.

The thing that keeps me going – and I haven’t shared this much – is this feeling that, somehow, I’m doing this for both of us. Trying to conquer our shared challenges, trying to find fulfillment that I’m not sure you ever did. Your oldest kids took care of the children thing, to wonderful effect. My job, it feels like, is to reach into the heart that I think I share with you, to take our vulnerabilities and turn them into strengths, then find the resiliency that will help me achieve my goals.

So even as I continue to mourn – and I expect I will until my own last day – I also give thanks for a mother who left me and many others inspired by her kindness, ability to comfort, and commitment to those in need. These are lessons that flowed from you and I will do my best to keep them going. 

We are all better off for having you in our family tree, our neighborhood, our lives. They are thriving thanks to the love your spirit continues to nourish.

Until we meet again,

Peege 


The Genuine Article (Inspiration series, No. 25)

Once she’s in your life, Kim is the kind of friend you wonder how you ever did without.


Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but I find myself thinking more and more about the people in my life and how they got there – whether it’s a childhood friend or someone met more recently, all of our lives are filled with these stories of connections. They make great tales in group settings and long after the original meeting, we can turn back to them to reaffirm our loyalty.

I don’t remember exactly when Kim Roots and I first started working together. But there wasn’t a doubt that she brought a lightheartedness (along with wicked writing skills) and good nature to an office always on deadline. No matter how hectic her schedule or what she was called on to do, she seemed to handle each assignment with grace and good humor.

For me, for all kinds of reasons, it was a weird time. Not sure I was in the right place, increasingly stressed about other stuffing my life, it sometimes felt like a challenge just getting to the end of each workday. Doubts I had about my abilities seemed to be contagious, and from above came increasingly frequent feedback that – well, let’s just say it wasn’t anything to write home about.

Things came to a head on a Friday morning, when a mistake turned into a public dressing-down that my frazzled self couldn’t handle. As soon as it was over, I fast-walked out of the room and down into the stairwell, sobbing. I don’t remember a whole lot about the next hour or so; I do recall clearly the first person who come to see if I was okay. 

Kim. She stayed long enough for me to pull myself together; her calm, reassuring voice helped me down off the proverbial ledge and was about the only thing that kept me from tossing my entire sense of self-worth in the dumpster outside. She may not have realized it at the time, but we were bonded after that.

I think there’s some kind of mythical thing, where, when you save someone’s life, you’re responsible for them. While I didn’t hold her to that fantasy obligation, I was smart enough to hold on to Kim, even after leaving the company the next week, when I decided there was just no turning back. And over the subsequent decade (which is a reminder that time freaking flies), I’ve come to realize how much there is to admire about this most special person.

For her first major act of kindness to me – critical as it was – is but one example of the way she lives her life. Kim is one of those people who not only supports everyone around her, she serves as a role model for living one’s best life. 

She is a doer. From yoga to spin cycling to traveling cross-country for work, it’s hard to imagine exactly when she sleeps. And as if having a family (including daughter Grace, who doesn’t even yet know how lucky she is) and hectic job isn’t enough…

The. Woman. Does. Triathlons.

I thought it was incredible when she ran the NYC marathon a few years back And then, there was Kim on Facebook just this month, holding Grace and smiling before setting off to run/bike/swim (in the Hudson!). I am no athlete, but I know that these things don’t happen in a vacuum. So while she was being Mommy, rushing around to interview TV stars, and surely holding a half-dozen more roles, she found the time to train for something most of us wouldn’t ever consider.

I’ve alluded to her career already. She’s gone from covering soap operas to hanging out with the casts of major series. Whether she’s one-on-one with an actor, hosting a show panel at a conference, or goofing around in a group shot, there’s one constant theme. Kim always looks happy.

And not the “I see the camera” kind of happy where everyone has that practiced smile ready. It’s genuine, and she emanates a “how did I get this lucky?” air that makes you cheer for her rather than be jealous. 

Kim brings people together. At her wedding, I got to reconnect with people who I didn’t have much chance to say goodbye to after my abrupt job departure. I even made new friends, including one who I adventured home with in the pouring rain, laughing and once again grateful for my Kim connection. 

It’s not just me. From her social media you quickly get the sense that she is spreading her unique brand of positivity – which embodies sweetness and sincerity that never feels false or exaggerated – across a whole lot of circles. Kim’s got her work crew, her family crew, her exercise crews (multiple) – you won’t be surprised that among her myriad activities she also regularly does charity events, pulling in her “Haul Buns” teams to make them all that much more fun. 

The other part of her personality, nearly as inspiring as her commitment and stamina, is this mixture of confidence and humility that is utterly charming. I believe Kim’s proud of all she’s accomplished, but she retains a wonderment about it all that is infectious. She’s far more prone to self-deprecation than self-promotion, and  quick to note those who’ve helped her achieve her various victories. She is as genuine as people come, the embodiment of what people mean when they say someone is “down to earth.”

I sound like a total fan girl, I know. And I apologize in advance to Kim, who will never see this coming and would never ask for the attention of even my small blog. But the admiration is real, and so is my gratitude. 

With all of the people who move in and out of our lives, it is easy to stop seeing each one for their unique gifts and talents. We all need people in our lives who not only remind us of the goodness around us, but of the goodness within us. When I spend time with Kim, I come away feeling better about nearly everything. She makes possibilities seem probable and challenges downright exciting.

Everyone should have a Kimberly Roots in their life. I’m really glad I’ve got the original.


  


Man of the People (Inspiration Series, week 25)

Jimmy Carter’s energy and commitment to his fellow man have only gotten stronger over the course of his 92 years


I’ve been slacking – big time. Old habits have been kicking at the door and, without thinking, I opened it. Thus a spate of weeks with no Inspirer and, as is always the case, lost momentum that makes getting back into gear like restarting a diet. 

But I committed, and if I must now play a bit of catch up, so be it. Surely the folks I’ve been chronicling would do no less. They conquered (some continue to) far more than simple laziness, and it is in their honor that I rededicate myself to this yearlong project.

Where better to regain traction than with a man who, after a humble start in life, made his way to the highest office in the world – and after he finished with it, went on to do even greater things? 

Born in 1924, James Earl Carter grew up modestly in Plains, and later, Archery, Georgia. He fulfilled his first dream in 1943 when he was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. It was while there that he would meet and fall in love with his sister’s friend, Rosalynn – they married shortly after he graduated in 1946. 

As a member of the Navy’s fledgling nuclear submarine program, he saw the devastating potential of atomic energy when he led the cleanup after a partial meltdown at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories. It was an event that shaped his thinking and led him to cease development of a neutron bomb in the 1970s.

Carter began his political career in the early 1960s, as racial tensions in Georgia intensified after the Brown vs. the Board of Education anti-segregation ruling. He became a prominent member of the community and when a state Senate seat opened up on 1963, he ran, with Rosalynn providing sharp political instincts. Though fraudulent voting cost him the race initially, he challenged the results and won a new election. 

A few years later he would run for Governor, and lose. But he had learned to play politics well, positioning himself as a populist as ran against mainstream Democrats. And though he made a priority of civil rights – including an increase in appointments of African-Americans – there were other decisions made to keep conservative supporters happy that were decidedly not progressive ones. Carter reinstated the death penalty (which he later said he regretted), but also pushed education reforms aimed at helping poorer communities. 

He was a relative unknown when he ran for the 1976 Democratic nomination for President – but he beat his primary opponents and in November he beat Gerald Ford to become the 39th Commander in Chief. It was a difficult time economically for the U.S. and around the world, there was turmoil. Carter brought Israel and Egypt together to sign the Camp David Accords, then faced a horrific challenge when the Iranian students took over the U.S. embassy in Teheran – 52 Americans were held as hostages for 444 days, and not released until after Carter had lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan.

He returned to his peanut farm (which he had placed in a blind trust to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest) after the devastating defeat. It’s difficult to contemplate how one returns from such a loss; but like many of my Inspirers, it didn’t take long for his next mission to appear. 

For it is in his post-presidency, now the longest in history, where this ex-President took on causes and global challenges in a way that he never could as America’s chief executive. He established the Carter Center in 1982 to work on issues such as eradicating diseases across the world. The Center has also monitored elections and supported human rights defenders from Haiti and Bosnia to Ethiopia. In 2002 President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development” through The Carter Center; he is unique in receiving the award for his actions after leaving the presidency.

Among all of President Carter’s good works, he is perhaps best known for his alliance with Habitat for Humanity.  He and Rosalynn worked on their first project in 1984 and according the the organization’s website:

“To date, President and Mrs. Carter have served with over 92,260 volunteers in 14 countries to build, renovate and repair 3,944 homes.”

As advocates and fundraisers, the couple has helped Habitat to become internationally recognized and their rallying of volunteers has been essential to its growth. Pictures abound of the former POTUS on job sites, not merely serving as a famous face but as a hands-on participant in building houses that change the lives of those who move into them. He has been part of constructions throughout the world, including across the United States (from New York City and Chicago to Memphis and Miami) and in the Philippines, South Africa, and Haiti – 33 years of giving families in need a foundation from which to grow and thrive.

Not one to court the press, President Carter did make news recently when, on his latest Habitat project, in Canada, he was taken to the hospital suffering from dehydration. It was rather amusing to see a few people criticize those who had “allowed” a 92 year-old man to be in that position – they obviously don’t know much about him and his determination. I know I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him to take a break.

One of the reasons this particular post took awhile is that as I looked to mark Independence Day a few weeks back, the founding fathers confounded me. There is much greatness in them for sure, and gratitude for what they created. Still, their other great legacy – that of enslaving a group people who were turned into commodities, setting the stage for atrocities that still linger – reared its head every time I thought about how to frame them.

Jimmy Carter is by no means a perfect man – surely this is one of the first things he would say about himself. But at a time when there is ever more emphasis on big personalities, loud arguing, and seeking of attention, his steadfast commitment to those in need – and his use of his position to help them – is unparalleled, certainly for a former head of state. 

He speaks to those of us who wonder about our purpose and whether it’s in our power to make a difference. Whether one shot of greatness is all each of us gets, or if it’s possible that beyond what seems to be the pinnacle of success, there is much more to give, and to gain. 

I say “I’m tired” a lot. After I’ve walked a few miles, or sat in front of the computer for too many hours, I complain (sometimes silently, sometimes not) about aching legs or eyes, about how there’s not enough time in the day for me to get all of the things done I say are important. 

Perhaps the next time I am tempted to that frame of mind, I’ll be smart enough to pull up this post and remind myself of the nonagenarian who, after a full lifetime of service, continues to give his all, each and every day. 


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