Last week I repeated a column from a few years ago that asked we adults to reflect on the question that many young people are asking now as they return to school, “Who is your teacher?” As I reflect on this question for myself, I am aware that one of my teachers is a former United States President, Jimmy Carter. For the last several decades he has continued to teach me a great deal about love, service, and the capacity to transcend political ideology in the service of a higher purpose.
Two weeks ago Jimmy Carter announced that he has been diagnosed with liver cancer, and that it has spread to four spots in his brain. So what did this former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner do the Sunday following his announcement? He did what he does most every Sunday, he taught Sunday school at his church, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. In fact, this was the 689th time he has taught Sunday school at his church. This time though he did something he had never done before. This past Sunday because there were more than 800 people lined up for his Sunday School class, more than he could accommodate in his regular class, he agreed to teach a second class later in the morning at the local high school. And the topic for this past Sunday’s double-header Sunday School class? Former President Carter taught his 800 students about “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” while his wife of 69 years, Rosalynn looked on with pride.
I don’t know the specifics of what Jimmy Carter taught about loving your neighbor last week, but I think I have a pretty good idea of what he might have said because I have been watching how he has lived his life for so many years. I don’t need to know the specifics because the former President has modeled loving his neighbors through his life of service, his thirty years of volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, and his founding of the Carter Center, a non-profit whose goal is to wage peace, fight disease and build hope throughout the world. The teachers that I admire most, the ones that have taught me the most about life, teach with their actions and by how they live their lives, as much as what they say or teach with their words.
Some things transcend political divides. Things like love, coping with a serious health diagnosis, and facing death with dignity and grace. These are things we all need to learn how to do and we are wise to seek out teachers who can teach us through their words and deeds, teaching us to live our lives in ways that model dignity and grace.
I am blessed to have many teachers from whom I continue to learn these important life lessons. A few are well known like Jimmy Carter, but most are people I am simply blessed to know as family or friends. I am grateful for all the teachers in my life, but this week I am especially grateful for a man of deep faith from a little town in Georgia.
Now I ask each of us, in honor of our teachers, to reflect upon these questions. Who are your teachers, and perhaps just as important, who are you teaching? Who might be looking to you to teach them important lessons about life or love? Who might be watching how you live?