The Most Incredible Engagement Story I've Heard in a Long Time

A man pops the question — in a notoriously tough Iranian jail.

wedding bands
(Image credit: Alex Shebanov/istock)

Rather than late-breaking news, I'm breaking a little late with this news. But have you guys heard about the young woman, Sarah Shourd,32, who was recently freed from a notoriously tough Iranian prison, after being held there for more than thirteen months, along with her boyfriend and one of their friends?

Shourd and her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where she was working as an English teacher and Bauer was a freelance journalist. When Josh Fattal, a friend from the couple's undergraduate days at UC Berkeley, paid them a visit, the trio went hiking in the lush green mountains along the Iran-Iraq border. While they tried to stay out of Iran, they were arrested by Iranian officials who accused them of intentionally crossing into the country in order to spy for the U.S. Accused of espionage, the three were imprisoned and kept in tiny jail cells — the two men lived together in a space not much bigger than two towels, and Shourd lived alone in a 5-by-10-foot cell. She spent the days in solitary confinement, broken up only by two 30-minute periods each day during which she was allowed to go outside and see the other two.

About a week ago, Shourd was mysteriously released and allowed to return home to her family, in Los Angeles — after 410 days in jail.

Perhaps the brightest moment of her captivity came when Bauer proposed to her. As a writer for the Associated Pressput it:

"On one evening, Bauer asked Fattal to stay in their cell during their allotted time outdoors, so that the couple could have a moment alone. The two sat on a rough wool mat, cockroaches skittering around them and dust filling the air. They held hands, and Bauer asked [Shourd] to marry him. He made them engagement rings from two thin pieces of string. 'It's not what every person thinks of as romantic, but it was romantic for me,' Shourd said."

Unfortunately, however, both Bauer and Fattal are still prisoners, and it's anyone's guess as to when they'll get out.

That very touching engagement story — a vote of faith in love under some of the most dire circumstances the average American could imagine — made me think of another engagement story that I'd read about not long ago, involving a 23-year-old Iraq vet, Specialist Brendan Marrocco, who lost all four of his limbs in an Easter-day explosion; he is the only quadruple amputee who survived the war over there. The New York Times ran a piece about him that described his unbelievable sangfroid, fortitude, determination, and fantastic sense of humor even as he went through a grueling rehab and recovery. The story also mentioned the "beautiful, grounded" young woman named Kate Barto he met while he was in Walter Reed Medical Center — the best-known military hospital in the country. Barto, who works with Hope for the Warriors, a nonprofit organization that supports wounded service members, was enamored by Marrocco's wisecracks and by what she called his "great spirit." They started talking on the phone constantly. Though she was somewhat hesitant about getting more involved with him, because she had just come out of a three-year relationship, she eventually realized that the two of them had a powerful connection. And her love for him didn't grow out of pity, as she told The New York Times; there was no reason to pity him, as she put it, because he was no less of a person, despite what happened to him. On Thanksgiving of last year, they got engaged.

They've since put the relationship on hold; Marrocco was feeling some emotional stress. I think an engagement is a big change to make under any circumstances — unimaginably big when you're living through a trial like Marrocco's. And yet the very fact that he wanted to get married and felt such a connection to another human being is a testament to how powerful love can be, and how it can transcend all sorts of physical realities and personal difficulties.

Anyway, I've gone on more than long enough now. But what incredible engagement stories have you heard?