In their own ways they tell a story of disappointment and frustration but never despair during the 145 days the 53 Americans have been held hostage in Iran.
Jimmy Carter talked about it, yesterday, calm and relaxed as he sat in an Oval Office wing chair, looking toward the sunshine of a brillant spring day. Only his face, more haggard than a year ago, showed the tension.
Two days earlier, across the desk in her East Wing Office, Rosalynn Carter sketched a mosaic of their lives together since it all began that Sunday last November.
From their separate impressions emerges a pastiche of how the crisis has affected them, their family, their friends, their feelings about the shah and his wife, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, the militants, the Moslem religion, and how they seek solace in prayer in their retreats at Camp David, in what they read, whom they see, what they talk about.
He called his failure to get the hostages released his greatest of his political life.
"I literally never forget them," he said.
"Sometimes," Mrs. Carter said of him, "he doesn't say very much -- I can look at him and tell he's pondering a little bit. But he doesn't GET REALLY DEPRESSED SO THAT HE DOESN'T SEE ANY WAY OUT OF IT. 've never seen him that way -- I've never seen him miss a night's sleep."
Carter called it having "a great deal of equanimity -- I don't get nervous, I don't get upset, I don't panic, I don't stay awake at night."
In the beginning it was tense all the time because every time the administration tried something and would think it was going to work, it fell apart. People inside and outside government were offering solutions.
"If we said we'll mine the harbor then what would the next step be," said Mrs. Carter. "They might do something very bad to the hostages. So I saw him take steps very cantiously seeing what we could do and how they would react.
"I know that he told me the other day that someone came in -- a person he really respects -- and said, I think we ought to give them a deadline and just say that's it,"" and he [Jimmy] said, "When the deadline comes, what then?" The man said we could attack them. All right, you attack them, you kill the terrorists and you kill how many of our hostages? You have to think about things like that. That would be something we could do and people would say he was taking strong action, but it endangers the lives of the hostages."
Of course, the shah is what it's all about. Two years ago they spent New Year's Eve with him and his wife in Tehran. The president toasted the shah and said, "There is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal gratitude and personal friendship." This New Year's Eve, the Carters thought about that.
I've never known the shah well or been close to him at all," Carter said, calling his Tehran stopover a "brief" one. Of the view history may eventually have of the shah, Carter said."It depends upon who's writing the history. I would guess that in Iranian history books written by the products and the leaders who triumphed in the revolution he would be looked upon as a criminal. I would guess that objectively history would treat him as much more kindly than that. Among his own supporters," the president added, "he would be looked upon as one who brought Iran into the modern age."
Mrs. Carter clearly remembered that New Year's Eve visit and pointed out that Jordan's King Hussein had been there with them."
We thought about all that time when everybody knew he was in real trouble and how do you treat that situation because he had been our friend for a long time . . . If we say we expect the shah to be strong and if you must admit that you see he's falling apart, which you could see. What kind of a face do you put on it? Those are the decisions Jimmy had to make before he actually left Iran."
On the shahbanou: "I think she did some good things in her country . . . she tried to preserve the culture and the museums and she worked with the women, had some good projects going. I think she's sincerely concerned about the people."
On the Ayatollah Khomeini: "My own personal opinion is that he is just consumed with hatred for the shah and is demanding revenge and will settle for nothing less than getting him back . . . that's what he wants."
Helping put these and other matters into some perspective have been friends of the Carters, weekend guests who help Amy make cookies in the family kitchen, overnight guests who are up from Atlanta almost weekly. One such friend is Charles Kirbo, the attorney who assists with what Carter calls "unofficial matters relating to my personal life" but who also understands the workings of politics and campaigns and governments.
"He and I have an ease of communication that's "reassuring", said the president. "In addition to that, we talk about Georgia, my past experiences as governor, we reminisce about interesting evenings that have taken place. We talk about quail hunting, fishing, for brim and bass, about interesting people who have lived in Georgia, about history and family affairs."
Is is clear that it is an enjoyable experience for Carter to be around Charlie Kirbo.
"When I get into a difficult decision I can depended on Kirbo to be very sound in his judgment. He's reticent about putting forth advice unless it's asked for, and so I don't have to worry about his being overly intrusive into my affairs."
From Rosalynn Carter: Jimmy talks with people like Sol Linowitz [his Middle East Negotiator] and Clark Clifford [the Washington attorney who sometimes acts as his special emissary] when he needs advice or wants their reaction to something. But Kirbo is different because he's never involved. They talk about everything -- inflation, Iran, Afghanistan -- from a different perspective."
Family and friends, in fact, are with the Carters at the White House "all the time," according to the first lady.
"We're not at all shut up or isolated or away from people the way sometimes I think people think."
Carter said he relaxes best doing "virgorous" exercise like tennis, running every day, swimming, cross-country sking and hiking.
"Rosalynn and I ride bikes and take hikes, sometimes vigorous hikes up in the mountains area arund Camp David and within the camp. I get up quite early and just walk through the woods -- I probably know the hidden places in the woods inside Camp David as well or better than almost anyone. And I personally laid out some walking paths and cross-country sking paths there which are now maintained."
He also relaxes by reading voraciously, "three or four books a week, besides his work, novels, deep things," said Rosalynn Carter, who estimated that he has 25 or 30 books out of the library all the time.
Susan Clough, his personal assistant and secretary, sends him titles from the best-seller lists. In recent weeks there have been thrillers like "Smiley's People by John LeCarre, love stories like "Life Before Man" by Margaret Atwood and brooding novels like "Sophie's Choice" by William Styron.
And works more pertinent to the problems at hand, books on the world of Islam and the Moslim faith, which Carter said he began studying before the Camp David talks because he wanted to find some "common ground on which Sadat and Begin and I might predicate progress toward peace."
So from his reading of Mohammed's teachings as described in the Koran, the Iranian terrorists "are not being humane, not being honest, not being compassionate -- they're punishing visitors in their country. Even Mohammed said representatives of a foreign nation should be treated as guests in one's house. So their profession of acting as leaders, I think, is erroneous and twisted."
The Bible is read nightly, "usually after we get into bed," said Mrs. Carter. "We read a chapter -- I read it one night, he reads it the next night."
Then, reflectively, she added that when he was governor she heard him say lots of times that he spent more time on his knees then than he had the rest of his life put together.
"I'm sure he can say that about since he's been president, too. He does pray about all the different things that happen. And maybe that's another reason he doesn't get so uptight."
Carter gets home from the Oval Office about 5:30 every night, sits down and reads until the news comes on television. After that it's dinnertime and some form of family relaxation. Mrs. Carter said he doesn't work at night any more the way he did the first few months he was in office. He only works, she said, if there's a big meeting the next day or a head of state coming to town or something special.
About twice a week they go to the movies at the White House (and always on weekends at Camp David). The other night it was Edmund Gwenn, Burt Lancaster and Dorothy Maguire in "Mr. 880", a few days earlier Sissy Spacek in "Coal Miner's Daughter" and James Caan in "Hide in Plain Sight."
"It doesn't usually matter what it is -- he has no favorite type: It's an escape," said Mrs. Carter.
She said that Jimmy had intended to go out on the campaign trail -- "it was really frustrating for him to be in and us to be out" -- but then he got so tied up with the Iranian situation and Afghanistan that campaigning was dropped. Miss Lillian went out for him, dropping her bomb about putting a contract out on the ayatollah at a time when her son, the president, had asked everyone else to refrain from inflammatory statements.
"I think it would be davastating to try to muzzle her," Mrs. Carter said. "You could say 'well, Mamma, be careful about what you say' but it would just ruin it for her. And she doesn't mean any harm."
But the most visible Carter on the campaign trail was Rosalynn, claiming to feel neither resentful at having to go it alone nor victorian over her husband's successes. It was early in the day of the Carter setbacks in New York and Connecticut but her comments on polls and opponents might not have been altered significantly had there been a crystal ball on her desk.
"I just think times have changed and this is a different era in our history," she said of Sen. Edward Kennedy's up-to-then lacklustre showing.
"The circumstances are different now for me," said Mrs. Carter, "they're different."
Iran has our hostages and to have brought the shah into the United States when he could go somewhere else, she said, would not have been right.
But Rosalynn Carter remembers that Sunday at Camp David when the president decided to let the shah come to the United States for medical treatment. He had turned down the first offer of santuary and then later he wanted to come and couldn't.
"Jimmy said they'd been struggling with it for a long time -- whether or not to let him in -- but we got the message that because he was sick, he needed the operation. They went to some length to be sure he did need the operation and that it was going to be very bad for him if he couldn't get that treatment.
"Jimmy said our country just could not keep somebody out if they were coming here for humanitarian reasons, that just was not what our country stood for, and he just thought he was going to have to let him in. He had a [briefing] paper about it and had been discussing it for a while. So he said yes, he'd let him in."
But everything went wrong and the Iranian government's "commitment" that no one would be harmed was no commitment at all.
"I think we've learned in the past that there's no functioning government and there's nobody there to work with -- for a little while we thought we might have. We hold out a hope that maybe there will be someone to deal with but then it all vanishes," she said.
The criticism since then has been tough to take. "You don't like the things they're saying, or to see your picture with ugly things written on it," she said.
Yesterday, of criticism, Jimmy Carter said that adverse press bothers him less than anybody around him.
"I try to look at it in historical perspective," he said. "i read recently a biography of Truman written by Donovan. Anyone who reads that book would know that Truman had much more difficult problems than I have and much more severe condemnation from the press and the congress and the public than I have ever experienced."
Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were roundly, even viciously condemned by the media, Carter continued. And Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson "suffered more than I did from their encounters with the press."
But Jimmy Carter looks at his stay in the presidency and his life at the White House as "a continuum in a free society where criticism is quite often beneficial. There are some writers, some news analysts, and some editors whose judgment I trust and when they are critical I habitually reexamine my position and I either acknowledge I made a mistake or I recognize I have knowledge and facts available to me they don't have."
There are others whom Carter discounts as being "of no consequence because I don't trust their integrity and I don't trust their intelligence or their competence."
Rosalynn Carter: "The other night I think we were watching something on television and he said 'that's the verse I say every morning as 'm walking over to the Oval Office.' I don't remember what it was -- I don't know that he's ever told anyone because he's never told me."
"She told you that?" Carter said yesterday, somewhat surprised.
"Almost every day I say 'Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in they sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Which is one of the verses I memorized as a child. And I think as president I need to be cautious about what I say and what I think so that it will be compatible with my own faith and the principle of our country."