As I sit at 37,000 feet on my way across the country from the Carter Center’s Winter Weekend in San Diego, the country is in the midst of its change to Springtime. We set the clocks ahead last night, and with several time zones of flying as well, my body is disoriented. But my disorientation does not end there.
My husband Arnie and I have just spent the weekend with President and Mrs. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and the staff and some of the contributors to the Carter Center. The Winter Weekend draws people together around President Carter, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a member of The Elders. President Carter is a public Christian and a public servant who, when he had the opportunity to relax and retire, decided instead, among other things, to form a visionary humanitarian and human rights organization to combat illness and injustice around the globe.
It’s not just the President who has disoriented me, although being in his presence would be enough. There’s also something startling about the people he gathers through the Carter Center. Couples and singles, employed and retired, some coming to the weekend with small children or young adults as guests, some of them are decidedly affluent while others are of more modest means. But they have this in common: they are humanitarians, many motivated by their faith traditions, all moved to action by philanthropic ideals and by the words and work of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
What did we do together? Well, it was surprising: we relaxed. For instance, we went to the San Diego Zoo, where we had a chance to meet the pandas that came to the United States after President Carter’s work on normalizing relations with China.
And we learned. We heard a briefing from Hrair Balian, President Carter’s Middle East specialist, and enjoyed briefings on the Camp David Accords from President Carter, Mrs. Carter, and Dr. Brzinzski. We enjoyed viewing a new documentary film about Camp David. We received a briefing on the remarkable work of the Carter Center in eradicating or eliminating various horrible diseases, like Guinea Worm and River Blindness, through targeted interventions working closely with local populations. We had numerous opportunities to ask questions about the work of the Carter Center, waging peace in conflict zones by working behind the scenes diplomatically and by such activities as election monitoring. We participated in a Town Hall meeting with the President and Rosalynn. And we toured a naval vessel with President Carter as guests of the Navy. At the end of the day we knew we had learned a great deal but that it was only a drop in the bucket of what the Carter Center is involved in.
When President Carter received the Nobel Prize he quoted the Reverend Walker L. Knight, in describing his approach to peace. Peace, he said in effect, is not reactive but proactive. Rev. Knight wrote,
“Peace has one thing in common with its enemy,
With the fiend it battles, with war —
Peace is active, not passive;
Peace is doing, not waiting;
Peace is aggressive –attacking;
Peace plans its strategy and encircles the enemy;
Peace marshals its forces and storms the gates;
Peace gathers its weapons and pierces the defense;
Peace, like war, is waged.”
Peacemakers working together against evil and for the good of all. This is certainly the philosophy of President Carter and of the Carter Center.
Disoriented…. Yes. I’m overwhelmed by the gentleness, generosity, vision and stalwart determination of this community. And I find myself wondering what my next campaign in waging peace will look like.
After the browns of the Iowa winter, it was green and sunny and warm in San Diego, the flowers were blooming, the whales were migrating just offshore, and like my other recent trips, all this, the whole package, will take me a while to unpack.