April 9, 2014, The Driskill, Austin, Texas
In April 1974, I was in 8th grade. In my English class, taught by Ms. Kramer (I’m 80% sure on that one), we were doing a unit on limericks. After watching a certain baseball game on the night of April 8, I penned this exact limerick:
Hank’s goal was a difficult plight,
beat Ruth—that would be out of sight,
but Henry hit more
than Babe had in store,
just goes to show black can beat white.
Decidedly outside of my memory, but apparently true, the Governor of Georgia was seated in the front row that night. In an on-field ceremony, he presented Aaron with a license plate for the Cadillac that was given to him: “HR 715.”
Forty years ago exactly from that moment, I got to hear that Governor, one Jimmy Carter, speak last night at the Civil Rights Summit here in Austin. It was a moment that will be even more indelible to me (and I will be sure NOT to commemorate it with a cheesy limerick). At 89, Carter is a force of nature, a man somehow more vibrant, more sure of himself, even more eloquent than I remember him being as President. His commitment to peace and human rights—his willingness to walk the walk, heck, to sprint the walk—is an absolute inspiration.
Of all the stories he told last night, one grabbed my heart most profoundly. LBJ Presidential Library Director Mark Updegrove asked Carter what the turning point had been at the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978. (Those were the discussions between former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.) For 13 days, the three leaders were holed up at Camp David. For the first three, Begin and Sadat were at each other’s throats, almost literally. Then Carter had them, in essence, retreat to their corners—not allowing them to talk face to face. He tirelessly did the “shuttle diplomacy” thing, back and forth, seeking common ground, trying to find the human touch that would allow a connection.
Toward the very end, Carter felt certain that the whole thing, however well-intentioned, had fallen apart: yet another in a series of seemingly endless failures to bring about peace in the Mideast. The enemies were too intractable, the age-old antipathy too hard to crack. Both leaders had shown some give, but in the end the state of the compromise they had moved toward was just too much for Begin to accept.
The prime minister, though, had asked Carter if he might be willing to provide a signed photo of the leaders for each of his eight grandchildren. Rather than just signing it with a generic sentiment, Carter found out (through his secretary’s dogged work) the names and proper spellings of the grandchildren. He knocked on Begin’s door to hand him the photos and bid him a disappointed farewell. Begin thanked Carter, and began to look at the photos individually, each bearing the handwritten name of a beloved grandchild. As Carter recalled last night:
“Tears ran down his face—mine, too.”
Then Begin said, “Why don’t we try one more time?”
The peace between Israel and Egypt has kept ever since.