Free at last, free at last

Peggy Say

December 09, 1991|By Peggy Say

ON MARCH 16, 1985, Terry A. Anderson was snatched off the streets of Beirut. For more than six years he struggled to survive in an underworld of terror few can imagine. Terry is now free. For the first time in too many years, he is inhaling air that is not tinted an eerie twilight blue and funky with the smell of bodies and human waste.

We learned from John McCarthy, the freed British hostage, that Terry knew his father and brother have died, and that he has emerged from the shadow of grief. There have been other losses: our world, our family, as he knew it, no longer exists. He will mourn the loss of the years when his daughter Gabrielle bridged the gap between child and woman, and he grasped the bond that links infant to parent when he embraced his daughter Sulome for the first time last Thursday.

We know from Terry's videotape last month and recently released hostages that he is ready to put even that pain behind him and get on with life. He has emerged from this horrendous ordeal with a faith, strength and dignity that is humbling.

He will learn more about the group his friends formed, the Journalists Committee to Free Terry Anderson, and how many gave over their lives to work for his freedom. We will talk of the dedication of former hostages, American and European, who remained bound to those they left behind by chains of pain and empathy.

I will tell him of the devotion of groups across the U.S., groups such as "No Greater Love," that never forgot the hostages and urged others not to forget. He will read the words of thousands of Americans who wrote letters, wore yellow ribbons and prayed and raged at the callousness of administrations with higher priorities and more important political agendas than the freedom of their own citizens.

During these next weeks of re-entry, I won't tell him of the accusation that "he shouldn't have been there in the first place," but I will tell him of the bravery of the journalists who remained at PTC the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad as we bombed the city. He'll hear with what joy the world applauded their on-the-spot coverage.

He doesn't need to know about the droning assertions of those who chose not to participate, who said "publicity will prolong his captivity." We knew from his videotapes and from released hostages how much the knowledge that they were not forgotten meant to them. As he said last week in Damascus about the prayers and efforts on the hostages' behalf: "They made a big difference. They made a difference for us in some very dark times."

I thank God that Terry will not demand an explanation about what happened to him, because the truth is too ephemeral, complex and far too painful for easy explanation. It is no one's fault, yet many share the blame. Those who took him must surely be condemned; kidnapping violates every humanitarian principle.

There is also complicity by silence. For various reasons, these hostages never became a cause celebre: no dramatic footage, no tense interviews, no dictator to overthrow, no oil in Lebanon to threaten the world market. Just a gaunt, bearded hostage every few years, blinking in the sunlight, while flashbulbs popped and cameras rolled. Then on to the next news "bite." Despite the executions, the stores of shame and degradation and the pleas from their fellow hostages, these men couldn't sustain the public interest.

Thank God for U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and his principal hostage negotiator, Giandomenico Picco -- and fresh air and sunshine. Terry is a national hero and deserves every ounce of adulation the world will give him. He is a legend in the world of hostages and the yardstick by which all Americans should measure themselves.

Peggy Say, who lives in Cadiz, Ky., is Terry Anderson's sister.

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