Mental memory writing with Terry Waite

8 May
Terry Waite © Calyx Picture Agency

Terry Waite © Calyx Picture Agency

Terry Waite was taken hostage in 1987 in Beirut, Lebanon.  He had been working as a hostage negotiator, and had been promised by the captors of two hostages – one very sick, and the other one about to die – that he would be allowed to see them.  Taking a huge risk to his own life and freedom, he went to Beirut to see the prisoners, whereupon he was captured and held – primarily in solitary confinement – for almost five years.

Amazingly, he has not suffered from any post-traumatic stress disorders, and this seems to be in large part because of the power that words and language have given him throughout and since his ordeal. 

Those of us who were lucky (or organised) enough to get tickets to his talk were given a small insight into his experience, and certainly a lot of wisdom, through the power of these words.

Relaxed and personable on stage, he told us his story through anecdotes, jokes, and poetry.  Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, he had us chuckling from his first lines to last – and this only served to emphasise one of his many pearls of wisdom: the importance of humour and laughter to help us through hard times.

He has just written a comic graphic novel about a cruise – a story that he wrote in his head during his captivity, alongside two books and many poems, which were all etched out in his mind until his release.

This ‘mental memory writing’ seems to have been one of the key aids to his mental, and perhaps even physical, survival.  He told us of the importance of protecting and strengthening our ‘inner life’ – particularly when our bodies are unable or prevented from functioning, and that we can do this is by using language and words to maintain harmony.  As he said himself, ‘out of suffering, something creative can emerge’.  This is surely advice that could apply to all of us at certain times in our life, even though we will (hopefully) be spared the traumatic experience of being held hostage.

Terry Waite has been called Lord, Archbishop, and Sir – though he is none of these things.  At Swindon today, his enthralled audience called him ‘pure’, ‘courageous’, ‘good’, and ‘amazing’ – and though this reviewer is not one to heap praise upon those who are already worshipped, it would be hard to disagree with their words.

Perhaps he should be a Lord.

Terry Waite appeared at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, with his book, Out of the Silence: memories, poems, reflections, 8 May 2017.

Words by Anna Bell.

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