“I am no bird and no net ensnares me;
I am a free human being with an independent will.”
Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre
Way back in 2013 I had a real adventure. I decided that the years were passing quickly and I had to do something to make a change in my life before it was too late – a real adventure. Oh I had had several adventures since the untimely death (is any death timely?) of my DYS (Dashing Young Scotsman, although by that time not so Young, but still Dashing). I had spent most of a year in Sussex playing companion to an elderly lady. Much of that already posted in this blog. Trips and flights to various places, but always knowing somebody with whom I travelled. But this time, I wanted a REAL adventure.
I decided to go to Florence. At the time, I owned an early 20th century villa and of course, as is always the case with older properties, there was continuing need for maintenance. I decided that I couldn’t trust a tenant to keep the place as it should be (more on that another time) and so I sold the property; put all my possessions into storage; booked an apartment in a suburb in Florence; booked flights to LA and London to visit my sisters and set off.
Much has been written about my adventure already. Somehow Day 1 in Florence has disappeared, but here is the link to Day 2. and the rest of the adventure follows in subsequent posts.
But what an adventure that was. I wrote about the feeling of Freedom in a post in October 2016
“To know nobody; to walk through the streets and not see a familiar face; to hear people speaking without understanding a single word they are saying and to not know where you are or where you are going; no familiar sights to guide you. It’s total freedom.
For once, you can just be you. There’s nobody who knows you and can comment on your behaviour. We all like to think that we are independent and not moved by others’ comments on our actions, but here I was, totally alone like a ship that had been untied and left to float.
Oh, how i loved Florence and the feeling of just being me for the time I was there. Never before have I been in such circumstances and I suppose I never will be again.”
But Freedom in the true sense means so much more to others.
Consider Nelson Mandela. He spent 27 years in prison for opposing South Africa’s apartheid system. He faced harsh conditions meant to break his resolve, but Mandela refused to give up his efforts to achieve equality for all people. Despite the terrible personal cost of imprisonment, Mandela continued to act as a leader and mobilized his fellow political prisoners. After he was released, Mandela helped negotiate an end to apartheid and became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
I have written about Terry Waite who, In 1987 as the special envoy for the archbishop of Canterbury (though not a clergyman himself), went to Beirut to negotiate the release of several hostages, including John McCarthy, Terry Anderson and Brian Keenan. He had already successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Iran and Libya, but when he arrived in Lebanon to meet with Islamic Jihadists, he too was taken captive.
Waite spent 1,760 days in solitary confinement, his only contact with the outside world being through wall tapping to his fellow hostages. Apparently, these hostages had a radio and could listen to the BBC World News. Read more about Waite, his confinement and eventual release here – Taken on Trust.
One of Waite’s fellow hostages was Brian Keenan. He was kidnapped by Jihadists in April 1986 and was held in captivity for four years. Much of that time was in solitary confinement. He was kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and was chained hand and foot when he was taken out of solitary. Keenan was one of the hostages whose release Terry Waite was sent to negotiate.
Keenan wrote about his ordeal. An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves around the great friendship he experienced with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that was inflicted upon them by their captors. It was the 1991 winner of the Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.
The world listened in horror to the news that in April 2014, 276 school girls in north east Nigeria were kidnapped by members of the group Boko Haram. Many of the girls managed to escape but more were held hostage for years by the group. In 2021 The Washington Post published a story about the kidnapping, the efforts to free the girls and a book written by journalists Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw “Bring Back Our Girls: The Untold Story of the Global Search for Nigeria’s Missing Schoolgirls.”
The Washington Post article tells us “But it would be more than three years before many of the schoolgirls — now young women — were freed from captivity in a negotiated settlement with paid ransom. Seven years later, 112 others remain missing.”
So while I talked about Freedom, it was a very different Freedom to that experienced by the many people who have been held hostage for whatever reason.
“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
~ Mary Oliver