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Tongue-tied before my hero

Mr. Carter paused, and waited for me to reply.

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President Jimmy Carter

Amr Nabil/AP

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I recently received an e-mail from my mother concerning an interview she'd heard with Jimmy Carter.

"I'm sure you can catch it online," she wrote, then added, "Remember when you met Jimmy Carter?"

Leave it to a mother to start rattling skeletons in her daughter's closet. Although there are plenty to rattle, my face-to-face meeting with Mr. Carter has always been a particularly embarrassing experience to recall.

Fifteen years ago, I was staying near the campus of Emory University in Atlanta, attending a three-month orientation program for overseas work. Our small group of participants was fairly representative of the global village: Some were first-time visitors to America. Others were residents or US citizens. But we all knew about Carter. I took great pride in my former US president, a man whom I greatly admired for his humanitarian work both in my country and around the world.

The final days of our program had been hectic, and I'd had no time to return several books to the university library, so I found myself heading out on a chilly December evening to do so.

I arrived on a campus that was oddly quiet. With final exams beginning the next day, students were absorbed in their studies.

While taking a shortcut through the student union, I came across a posted announcement: "Today from 4 to 6 p.m., Jimmy Carter book signing. Join us!"

My heart sank. Of all the events I had carefully scheduled in my calendar of worthwhile campus events, this one had slipped my notice. It was well past 6. I'd missed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a legend.

In irritation, I made my way down the corridor leading outside. As I passed a meeting room, I glimpsed a white-haired man at a long table.

I stopped. Was that who I thought it was?

I stealthily peered through the open doorway. It was.

Carter was methodically signing a pile of books. A formidable bodyguard in a neatly pressed suit stood nearby. No one else was in sight.

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