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Story #7 – Man v. Tanks

I am not accustomed to hero worship. Perhaps being serially molested by a childhood hero, or perhaps because life has taught me we all are prone to err. No matter how shiny one’s outer appearance, everyone has more than a few skeletons in their closets....However, there is a person who demonstrated such startling courage, and selflessness, in the face of cold oppression and institutional injustice, that his portrait has inspired me every day since he became known to the world.

In 1989, when I was just coming to grips with my own inner demons, and suffering through late-stage, nearly terminal addiction, this person was slaying dragons in a land far away. That land, through serendipity, would become my home.

We cannot know how he felt. What inner strength, passion for freedom from oppression, and opposition to institutionalized abuse, led this young man to walk out of his home on that sunny June 4th in Beijing? What hidden power urged him to set himself alone in the middle of the road, against of a column of tanks? He didn’t just stand idle, but harried the tanks, dodging left then right, forcing them to either halt, or crush him while the world watched in silence and disbelief. It would have been understandable if he had hurled stones, or even a bomb. After all, his own authoritarian leaders had massacred their citizenry throughout the night. Could we have blamed him, if in a rage, he sought revenge for the abusers through an act of violence?

However, if this pure act of blocking the cold mechanical face of evil was not sufficient to hold this man in awe, then what he did next was certainly worthy of our highest admiration and strict emulation. Wielding what is alleged to be a bag of books, he climbed aboard that cold and brutal, iron-clad instrument of destruction, knocked politely, and tried to reason with the inhabitants. He placed the beautiful and powerful mind of humankind in stark opposition to the cold unreasonable face of abuse.

More startling, as the tanks again began to move forward he stepped in front to block them anew. His body was a sufficient statement. Enough! Stop! Your might is not grounds for abuse! I will not let you by so easily...He was pulled off into the crowd, and no one knows what became of him.

My life has had some hard knocks, sure, and I have felt institutionalized abuse and fear. I try to take a lesson from Tank Man’s public and peaceful, but relentless opposition to the evils of mankind. Tank Man didn’t actually stand alone that day I stood with him, from afar, as did the multitudes of humankind who will not allow abuse to stand unchallenged. We are many, they are few and clearly wrong, they cannot prevail.

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