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Role model

It’s now a cliché: President Jimmy Carter is probably the best ex-president we’ve ever had.

That testimonial refers primarily to his passion for building houses with Habitat for Humanity throughout the world for almost four decades since he vacated the White House.

Now Carter is 95. He has been successfully treated for brain cancer since 2015. Recently, he sustained two falls that led to two brief hospitalizations.

Reflecting back on his diagnosis four years ago, he told his Sunday school class: “I assumed, naturally, that I was going to die very quickly. I obviously prayed about it. I didn’t ask God to let me live, but I asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death. It didn’t really matter to me whether I died or lived, except I was going to miss my family and miss the work at the Carter Center and miss teaching your Sunday school service.”

I hope that some of us older folk will make Jimmy Carter our role model for dying. Having lived a long and filled-full life, he is as prepared as one can be to die. He is, as William Cullen Bryant in “Thanatopsis” wrote, “Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

The polar-opposite model for dying old is Dylan Thomas, who found losing his father who was 75 and dying from throat cancer unacceptable, so he wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, devastated by his father’s death, died one year later at 39, his  grief unacceptable and unresolved.