The first thing is that four o’clock in the morning is an obscene time to wake up, even if you’re accustomed to waking at the indecent time of five-thirty on a regular basis.
The second thing is that friends make the obscenity of the dark, cold morning bearable, and homemade scones and mason jars filled with warm tea (even if it’s left undrunk) make it pleasant.
The third thing is that driving through the back roads of Georgia is a peaceful experience, so that you start to forget your irritation at the first thing.
The fourth thing is that arriving at the church just a little after eight o’clock is apparently still ridiculously late, so that after you go through the friendly Secret Service security check, you still have to sit in overflow seating in the church’s small fellowship room.
The fifth thing is that you will not forget the discomfort of sitting on a metal folding chair with a pittance of padding for four hours, especially after you realize that you have to slouch or bend over so that you don’t accidentally block the view of the nice people sitting behind you.
The sixth thing is the experience of getting oriented to how you are supposed to behave in front of President Carter by a woman who insists that this crowd of over three hundred people is going to be one of her “gifted classes.”
The seventh thing is being dismayed to watch an old white man in a Navy baseball cap refuse to return a toy to a small black child who’s sitting next to you after he drops it on the floor, and then being overjoyed as the child reaches over the seat and yanks the toy back because don’t be such an entitled jerk, dude.
The eighth thing is being so caught up in watching the orientation on the television that you miss the moment when Jimmy Carter enters the room and says in a voice that’s surprisingly high, “Good morning!”
The ninth thing is Jimmy Carter wore a bolo tie to church.
The tenth thing is listening to Mr. Carter talk about what his organization has been doing recently in world affairs and realizing that even though this isn’t what he’s officially teaching for Sunday School, it feels like it’s still a key part of the lesson.
The eleventh thing is hearing Mr. Carter correct someone who calls the Bible the “inspired Word of God” by adding that it was indubitably written down by people “who can make mistakes.”
The twelfth thing is hearing Mr. Carter, a 91-year-old white man in the middle of rural Georgia, say, in a manner that makes it obvious no one could disagree with him on this point, that the sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia lead people to treat others poorly, and we would do better to avoid those things in our lives.
The thirteenth thing is regretting that Mr. Carter’s lesson ends at ten forty-five, and there’s still the church service to sit through on those blasted chairs.
The fourteenth thing is that the service is pleasant in its simplicity, but you must pity the pastor who has to follow Jimmy Carter every week.
The fifteenth thing is standing in line to get one quick picture with President Carter and his wife Rosalynn (pronounced like Rosa and Lynn mashed together, as the nice church lady informed her “gifted class”) and overhearing a Secret Service agent warn people not to put anything down on the pew when they get their picture taken, because he got tackled by the nice church lady for doing it once.
The sixteenth thing is feeling like you’re going to lose your balance while you pose for the picture, and it would be pretty mortifying to topple over and knock President Carter off the stool he’s sitting on.
The seventeenth thing is there’s still a three hour drive home ahead, but you don’t care because the sun is shining and you still have friends and scones.