IN A SEASON when the news seems overcrowded with examples of instability, William F. Niehous, kidnap victim, returns home to Toledo in time to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary, having lost 44 pounds of flesh and gained a couple of pounds of hair, but otherwise seeming none the worse for wear. There is no good reason for that. Mr. Niehous has every right to be much the worse for wear, having been tied to a post in a jungle hut in central Veneszuela for most of the past three and a half years by captors who, having been paid no ransom, would neither kill him nor set him free. Thanks to some overdue luck, Mr. Niehous was set free last Friday when two mounted policemen stumbled on his hut-prison while searching for cattle rustlers. What they found instead was a remarkable man, whose essential remarkable quality seems to have been that he was able to retain his sense of normality under the most abnormal and harrowing circumstance.
Sir Walter Raleigh, while imprisoned in the Tower of London for 13 years, managed to complete his "History of the World," undoubtedly because of selfdiscipline, and because he was able to distinguish between the sane and insane, between the solitary, unnatural life imposed on him and the standard of life he preserved in his mind, which he knew to be normal and reasonable, if not perfect. Mr. Niehous had some of Raleigh's fortitude, but unlike Raleigh, or Oscar Wilder, or Boethius or any of history's more famous prisoners, he was given no desk and paper to work with, and in fact had nothing in his latter months of captivity but a box-size, lightless room with a zinc roof. How someone survives such isolation is almost beyond imagination. After a while during those three and a half years, Mr. Niehous' captors must have felt as imprisoned by him as he was by them, and whatever political reasons had originally impelled the kidnapping must have become crazily abstract.
Yet clearly Mr. Niehous had something to hold on to that was neither crazy nor abstract. In a television interview yesterday, he lounged in his living room beside his wife and across from his children just as comfortably as if he had always anticipated the scene, as if that scene and scenes like it had been his way of knowing reality from the hut. That he was able to cling to such scenes sucessfully says much for both their value and his grasp.