The Man Who Found Freedom in Captivity

MAURA CASEY

October 14, 1992|By MAURA CASEY

MYSTIC, CONNECTICUT — Mystic, Connecticut.--Terry Anderson doesn't talk like a man who spent 2,455 days as a hostage in Lebanon. He speaks gently, his demeanor is serene.

It is apparent that Mr. Anderson accomplished something extraordinary despite his seven years of imprisonment by radical Shiite Muslims. He emerged from his captivity a whole person, respectful of others, more tolerant, more forgiving -- even toward his captors -- than anyone could have expected.

''I think I was a pretty good journalist,'' Mr. Anderson said of his former career. (He has resigned from Associated Press.) But in looking at past stories he wrote after covering ordinary and extraordinary events, he said he felt dissatisfied.

''What I don't see enough of in my stories is people, and what these things meant to them. Their pain. Their suffering. This is one of the direct ways we as journalists can affect things,'' he said, one of the ways the media could help people move beyond hate and bitterness. ''Maybe we should talk less about politicians, and more about people. Count fewer bodies, and count more people,'' he said.

What is most striking about Terry Anderson is his lightness of being.

Immediately after he was kidnapped in 1985, he was forced to lie blindfolded, his hands and feet chained, for 24 days. Finally, he said to his guards, ''I can't do this. I'm not an animal. I'm a man. I'll go crazy. . . . I want you to loosen my chains. And I want a Bible.''

After a few days, a guard gave Mr. Anderson a Bible. ''I can still smell it,'' he said, smiling. ''I read it right from the beginning. The editor's notes, the translator's notes. I read them again, and again, and again.'' In all, he figures he read the Bible at least 50 times. ''I did have seven years,'' he said.

I asked him why he didn't hate his captors. He said that hating was incompatible with Christianity. ''If I'm going to live as a Christian I have to forgive. It's a process. I'll be doing it for the rest of my life, I hope.''

But one can get the best sense of Mr. Anderson's insight, and his growth, from the poems he wrote while in captivity, such as this one:

. . . One of those who kidnapped me

said once: ''No man believes he's evil.''

A penetrating and subtle thought

in these circumstances, and from him.

And that's the mystery:

He's not stupid, and doesn't seem insane.

He knows I've done no harm to him or his.

He's looked into my face

each day for years, and

heard me crying in the night.

Still, daily he checks my chain,

makes sure my blindfold is secure,

then kneels outside my cell

and prays to Allah, merciful, compassionate.

I know too well the darker urges in myself,

the violence and selfishness,

I've seen little in him I can't recognize.

What disturbs Mr. Anderson most about his years of captivity is that his captors have left Americans with a distorted image of the Middle East. ''A tiny minority of a minority has formed an image for Americans. They [his kidnappers] don't represent the Middle East or Islam. They don't even represent Shiites,'' he said. ''We have got to be tolerant.''

When he was asked whether he harbors any bitterness regarding his years in captivity, Mr. Anderson shrugged. ''I have a pretty good life,'' he said. ''It's fresh, bright and beautiful. I don't want to throw it away on anger and bitterness, or thinking about what I lost during that seven years.''

No one can ever give Terry Anderson back those many years of captivity. But no one could ever give him what he gained from that experience, either.

He is telling, in the light, the lesson he learned from the darkness: That it is who we are, not what we do, that is most important; that it is how we touch the lives of one another that will be the true measure of our days.

Terry Anderson has left his chains behind, and each of us is a little more free because of that.

Maura Casey is associate editorial-page editor of The Day, of New London, Connecticut.

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