This is not a political post. It is a story of carpe diem, of saying “yes” when it would be much easier to say, “next time.”
Some background: I’ve always been a big fan of Jimmy Carter. Ever since he campaigned in Des Moines when I was living there, I found him fascinating and inspirational…his journey from small-town farm life to the White House; his never-ending quest for peace; the way he handled his presidential loss with incredible grace and dignity; and how he created his Carter Center, an institution that has probably done more for humanity than even he could imagine.
I had never met him and never thought I would – until our Los Angeles-based son sent me a text that the following week, Jimmy Carter would be signing his new book, A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. There were only 1,500 tickets and you had to be in line no later than 4:30 before the doors would open at 6 pm. My husband Herb agreed to the trek, and after snatching up one of the remaining tickets online, we found ourselves heading an hour-and-a-half north on a Thursday afternoon.
Vroman’s is one of those wonderful independent bookstores that is still thriving. Founded in 1894, it claims to be “Southern California’s Oldest & Largest Independent Bookstore” and is a place where you could wander and browse for hours. This day, however, was not one for leisurely book browsing. The place was humming with people, and there was clearly an energy in the air as bookstore workers were preparing to close the second floor where the signing would be held.
We picked up our book and were assigned a letter group based on when we had placed our order. The signing line began outside the front of the store and wove along Colorado Boulevard past nearby storefronts. Finally we spotted the section for our “K” group and took our place.
The entire event was highly orchestrated and incredibly well run. Vroman’s employees would periodically walk the line, giving status reports on the wait, and the Secret Service were also not-so-secretly milling about. After going through security, we were directed to a line that snaked through the first floor and then made its way upstairs. And suddenly there he was: A 90-year-old former U.S. President with sparkly blue eyes and a huge, warm smile, signing books at lightning speed. A little boy ahead of me told him, “You’re my favorite president,” and Mr. Carter seemed genuinely pleased. When my turn came, all I could do was smile and say, “thank you.” The little boy had said it all.
After the signing, we were allowed to take pictures in a special area. The trick was positioning yourself so President Carter appeared in the background. Like the entire event, it went by in a nanosecond, and we found ourselves back outside, ready to grab dinner before the drive home.
Three weeks after the book signing, Jimmy Carter announced to the world that he had cancer. He would still be doing the work he loved, but he would be postponing travel plans to build Habit for Humanity houses in Nepal. He had waited to have surgery until the end of the book tour, and now he would be starting cancer treatment.
Godspeed, Jimmy Carter. I’m so happy I got to meet you.