Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Terry Waite

This evening I attended The Church of St. John in Maadi for a lecture by Terry Waite, a hostage negotiator, humanitarian, and author. He is a world-renowned peacemaker, devoting his life to humanitarian causes, inter-cultural relations, and conflict resolution. Tonight’s lecture was “Survival in Solitude”; a talk of his own experiences in solitary confinement for four years in Beirut, Lebanon. It was one of the best speeches I’ve heard in my life, and I would like to share some of it with you.

For over 4 years Waite was chained to a wall, often left in darkness, beaten, and subjected to a mock execution. One example of torture; a guard would place a pillow over Waite’s face, sit on it, and other man would whack Waite’s feet with cables. Other times Waite was forced into a locked refrigerator. All his possessions were taken from him and was left with shorts and a singlet in the summer and pajamas in the winter. He slept on the floor. He was allowed only one bathroom break per day. Every time a guard came into the room Waite had to put on a blindfold; I got the impression that he didn’t see a human face for 4 years.

Waite began his speech by explaining some of his rather humorous experiences in confinement. Fortunately, one of the guards was relatively nice to him, and agreed to help find English books for Waite. However, the guard couldn’t read English, and even if he could, it was unsafe for him to be caught in a bookstore with English books. In some way, there was a friend of a friend of a friend who was able to pick up books for Waite. The first book; The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill about American and British POW’s efforts to escape camps from their German captors in WWII. Ironic, isn’t it? The second book was a manual about breast feeding. J The next book was about infants. Waite was clever, though. He asked for paper and a pencil (one of two times he was allowed paper) and drew a picture of a penguin, telling the guard to get books with this animal on it. It goes to show the value of symbols and trademarks—they travel across nations and cultures more than just about anything. Powerful. Also, I was amazed at Waite’s ability to laugh at these situations and see the humor in them.

When Waite first realized he had been tricked into becoming a hostage himself, he told himself to follow these three thing; do not regret, do not pity yourself, and know your sentimentality (i.e., do not say “Oh, if only I would have done this…”). Instead, he decided to approach each day as a gift and live within the moment. You are where you are now and you must deal with that. Being regretful or pitying yourself will only demoralize you and make you ineffective and lose hope.

As Waite saw his physical body disintegrate he knew he had to learn to live from within. In his mind he ‘wrote’ poetry and thought of books he knew well. He used the language of his mind to create harmony in his soul. Your whole life is in your head, really; you cannot see, hear, think, talk, etc. without your mind. Therefore, you must use creative imagination to keep your soul going, but you must also discipline the mind so that it doesn’t run away form you and think of the worst possible scenario. Also, he said it is important for everyone, at some point in life, to be self-centered; not to be selfish, but to know the self. When you do this, you realize the dark side of your self along with the light side, and you must face it. You cannot focus on obliterating the darkness, but rather embrace your humanness and heighten your lightness for the world.
No matter what happened to him, Waite knew his soul could never be taken from him. This belief kept him maintaining hope, and hope keeps you alive. He also would never let his anger turn to bitterness. He continued to stress we must never let anger turn into bitterness. Bitterness is the cancer of the soul and will lead you to hate and violence, spreading more bitterness and hate.

Once, when Waite was very sick, he was able to plead with a guard to let him use the bathroom one extra time that day. In the restroom Waite found the guard’s gun, and within an instant decided he would not use it for any purpose. Why? Integrity. Waite had always told the hostage takers that violence is never a solution; violence only leads to more violence. So, after using the restroom he told the guard, “You left something in there” and went back to his cell. You can be robbed of most things, but if you really lose everything if you sacrifice your integrity.
Waite was able to look beyond his own suffering and see the greater picture. He realized that his captures had also experienced oppression, and they were suffering in many ways of their own, such in that they lost the ability to view their hostages as human beings. You can only imagine the defeat of the soul when you have enough fear, anger, and hate in your heart that you lose the sense of sympathy for a fellow human being. Waite said no matter what suffering exists in your life and in the world, you cannot let suffering destroy. You must use it for creative good. At heart most people believe in compassion, love, and justice. At the heart of Christianity and at the heart of Islam is a desire for peace and justice. There are no shortcuts to peace and stability, but we each have the responsibility to do our part in this world.

The speech was full of wisdom, expressed through this man’s own integrity in these experiences. His speech was light-humored, hopeful, and honest. He stood as a symbol of the peace, grace, and open-heartedness. Especially in light of what I’ve experienced lately, Waite spoke to me when he said this; in dire situations, you discover the resources inside you that you never really knew you had—they come out in you when you need them to. Humans really are amazing creatures.


  • At 4/15/2008, Anonymous marisa said…

    Thank you for this post. Just today (4/14/08) I heard one of Terry Waite's poems on The World, and I decided to blog about it tonight ~ and found your blog. I really enjoyed this post ~ thank you, from Oakland, CA.


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