Speaking to Sarah-Jane Mee of Sky News on Tuesday from his home in Hartest, Suffolk, Terry Waite CBE provided insightful and wise tips to the nation about how to cope with the current coronavirus lockdown.
Waite, who spent 1,736 days or almost five years in captivity in Beirut from 1987 until 1991, told of how he is himself self-isolating and of how the current strange conditions have “levelled” us all. He urged people to be positive about the future and remarked:
“The way to do that, in part, is to try and live for the moment; try and live for now. Erm, try and make the moment as full as possible. Now, how do you do that in captivity where you’ve no books, you’ve no paper, you’ve nothing? Well, I had to do that by mentally adjusting to the situation. Saying there’s little or nothing I can do to change this, but I can hold on to the fact that I have life now, not tomorrow, I have it now. And I’m going to live it as fully as possible.”
Speaking of finding something useful to do, he continued:
“I began to write in my head, I began to use my mental capacity in a way that extends that. And that was a way of just surviving. And, as I say, there will be many people who are deeply afraid and worried at the moment; well, somehow, remember that this virus will be defeated, there will be a life after that and, you know, things do have a habit of turning out well if we want to work for them.”
“For the majority of us, it will be fine. But we just somehow have to develop that capacity within ourselves to take the situation at the moment as it is.”
“What I had to do, also, was to keep myself, keep myself, erm, alive in the following way. I mean, I’ll tell you a silly story, but it is perfectly true. In the first week of captivity, I had my own clothes. And at night, I managed to get my trousers off even though I was chained. And I put them under the mattress to press them. Now, that might sound really stupid, but it was something that I learned in the army during National Service.”
“In all these situations, keep your own dignity, keep yourself smart and the same applies today when those people are at home in lockdown. You know, don’t just get up and hang around all day in a dressing gown or pajamas. Take a pride in your appearance still, keep yourself smart. Retain your own dignity. That’s really pretty important.”
“The other thing to say is form a structure for the day. Now, I’m sitting here at home alone. I’ve been in lockdown for the last week, maybe longer, but I’m so fortunate. I mean, I’m surrounded by my books, I’m surrounded by papers, I’ve got access to the Internet, a whole range of things. I can use this time creatively, which I’m trying to do. I’m actually beginning to start writing a new book at the moment. We can use this time creatively… rather than emphasising the negative.”
Moving on, more generally, the humanitarian added:
“I remember a few years ago, a politician saying: ‘There’s no such thing as society.’ Well, I think that’s been proved to be absolutely wrong. I’m here in Suffolk in a small village and we are very, very fortunate because there is a good sense of community.”
Waite finally spoke of the positives he sees for the future. He concluded:
“On Saturday, I needed some shopping doing and on Sunday morning someone left a bag of shopping at my front door. I heard yesterday, that the local church, through a charity, has organised a system of distributing meals for those that need it. And in all sorts of ways, people are responding… The British people, the time like this, it often brings out the best in people. It brings out the worst in some people and we’ve had examples of that. But, overall, it brings out the best.”
“And what I hope will happen is that we’ll have a new sense of community and society when we’ve been through this and, in fact, even going much further than that perhaps we’ll have a new understanding that be in tune and in touch with our environment in a way that perhaps we haven’t been in the past.”
Terry Waite is entirely right: It’s time we were more grateful for what we actually have and it’s time we put to good use this lockdown. Let his words be a lesson to us all.