F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Fitzgerald did not enjoy enough longevity to see the modern phenomenon of the “second acts” of former presidents. If he were alive today, he might famously retract that statement.
Mark Updegrove, a veteran writer for both Time and Newsweek has authored a most enlightening book, Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House, which tells the stories of presidents after leaving office, giving emphasis to Truman through the Clinton era.
I read this book the week former President Gerald Ford passed away. It was during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period. This is my usual time for me to catch up on reading material I have desired to devour for weeks or months earlier in the year.
Each account of the former presidents chronicled in this book was a balanced report and worthy tribute to the post White House contributions they made in advancing the causes dear to them. The description of how some of the former presidents forged unlikely friendships was a refreshing reminder of how bipartisanship can be achieved even in the midst of divisive political climate as we know today.
Gerald Ford was defeated by newcomer, Jimmy Carter, in one of the closest elections in our nation’s history. Yet the two of them became good friends who worked on projects together in their older years. The elder George Bush was likewise defeated by another relatively unknown southern Governor, Bill Clinton, in an election which ended the so called Reagan era in the White House. Despite the acrimonious campaign, George Bush was gracious in defeat and when Clinton left the White House, the two of them became partners in raising funds for those effected by the Tsunami of 2004 and later hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
In all of the history of humankind, there is no parallel to the smooth transition of power from one president to another. Even in the most contentious of campaigns, such as the election of 2000, which involved court battles, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the transition was a marvel to behold and perhaps the envy of other nations.
The presidency is a symbol of strength and authority for our country. Former presidents have become elder statesmen, who are free to pursue worthy interests as well as personal gain. This represents the “second acts” which F. Scott Fitzgerald would not live to see.
Possibly, with the longer life expectancies of our day, we too can experience “second acts.” Retirement can be just a word in the dictionary for Christians who are serious about serving the Lord until He comes. The Psalmist offers a prayer on our behalf, “Teach us to number our days, so we can develop a heart of wisdom.” If the Lord gives us the opportunity for “second acts” then we need to seize them and make the most of them. Clearly 20 percent of our population is over sixty. That percentage will increase even more in the near future as the waves of baby boomers reach the sixth decade of life. Numbering our days with a heart of wisdom is attitude needed for significant “second acts,” which can make a real Kingdom difference. “Second acts” in life give us further opportunities to reach someone for the Savior and to do something for Him in Great Commission Ministries.