Welcome to My Writer’s Sketchpad

Ruminations is where I share works in progress. Please follow the pointers below to learn more about me and the stories you’ll find on these pages. Thank you for visiting. Please return and tell a friend.

Who is Tom Abate and what does he write about?

Eclectic notions arising from my experiences and observations.

Stories and commentary based on research, interviews, and observations.

Satire, fiction, humor, and advice from the Dead Blogger’s Society.

Experiences and events that formed my character and inform my work and beliefs.

Jimmy Carter’s recipe for a life well lived.

“The Virtues of Aging” is the former president's guide to finding satisfaction in service to family, friends, and community.

I’ve read Jimmy Carter’s slim volume, The Virtues of Aging, at three inflection points in my life, and each time I felt as if the former President had spoken to me like a friend.

Carter was 74 when the book came out in 1998, by then more widely admired for his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity than for his single term in the White House. He began the book by recalling how he and his beloved wife, Roslyn, returned home to Plains, Georgia, to find their farm and peanut business floundering.

“We faced the prospect of selling our land, some of which had been in the family for 150 years, and perhaps taking out a mortgage on our only home,” he wrote. “Even then we had no assurance that we could raise enough cash to avoid an embarrassing bankruptcy.”

I picked up The Virtues of Aging at a yard sale a dozen years after its publication. I was 57, unemployed, struggling with mental and physical ills, and responsible for the disintegration of my marriage and family.

“The virtues of aging include both the blessings that come to us as we grow older, and what we have to offer that might be beneficial to others.”

Carter, who’d been 56 when defeated by former President Ronald Reagan, seemed to grasp the fear of being washed up. “One of my friends pointed out that more than a third of American men in my age group were retired,” he noted.

Calmly and clearly, he told of confronting one practical challenge after another, drawing strength from each success, and from family and friends and faith. I lacked Carter’s faith and had damaged many relationships, but his humility inspired me to believe in the possibility of my own redemption.

As I recovered emotionally, professionally, and financially, The Virtues of Aging sat forgotten on my bookshelf for 10 years until difficulty called it forth again. Circumstances at work had forced me from a job before I was ready to go. I was 67, my reemployment prospects seemed bleak, and my youngest child was just entering college.

As I started getting rid of possessions to downsize my life, I came across Carter’s book and read it again, this time seeking hope. I had worked continuously my entire adult life, and even during those worst of times in my late 50s, I had met my financial obligations. But I was feeling old and worn out and dreading another upheaval.

Once again, The Virtues of Aging offered a prescription. Gratitude for good health and supportive relationships were bulwarks against adversity. Whether voluntary or not, a successful transition out of full-time work required an honest self-appraisal of what we must do, what we’d like to do, and the hobbies and relationships we enjoy most. Steer yourself toward those!

“There are two crucial factors in how happy or successful an older person is: having a purpose in life and maintaining quality relationships with others,” he wrote, adding, “Each of us is old when we think we are, when we accept an attitude of dormancy, dependence on others, a substantial limitation on our physical and mental activity, and restrictions on the number of other people with whom we interact.”

The next, but probably not last time I picked up The Virtues of Aging was after Carter, 98, left the hospital for hospice care at home. I hoped one day to look back on a life well lived. Who better to suggest how than this man who had served 42 years as ex-president?

I found the formula I sought in the preamble to The Virtues of Aging, where Carter explained that “virtue” in the title was meant to convey the word’s two basic meanings, “a particularly beneficial advantage” and “an inherent quality that is admirable.”

“The virtues of aging,” he wrote a quarter century ago, “include both the blessings that come to us as we grow older, and what we have to offer that might be beneficial to others.”

Get in Touch