Resilience Does Not Forget: June 4, 1989 by Sherry Cheng

Years after a catastrophe, resilience continues to express itself. Memory lets us relive and reinterpret past events, unpacking things that overwhelmed us and growing our response over time. It is not an easy process. The approach of a date, a particular smell, image, or snippet of music can send us back to a deeply fearful place. Some try to forget, but the things we hide from the daylight have a way of resurfacing in our dreams. Unexpressed emotions can be powerful poisons. A world that suppresses history is a world in which violence simmers continually just beneath the collective consciousness. Resilience grows in the soil of our stories, informing the people we become, passing through us into our relationships and communities. We must share with one another if we want to survive.

This prose poem is the work of my friend, Sherry Cheng, a vibrant, warm and intelligent Chinese American woman who came to the United States in her teenage years. In it, she relates how the catastrophic events that happened in Tiananmen Square on a fateful day in 1989 impacted her, her family and her future husband. Her raw honesty speaks volumes, simple and clear. There cannot be many things more terrifying than a government that kills, imprisons and intimidates people with impunity.

Let me set the stage. On June 4, 1989, a peaceful, student-led protest is violently suppressed by the Chinese government, as the military, armed with rifles and tanks, kills at least several hundred unarmed people in Tiananmen Square. The images of tanks plowing down students shocks the world. Wei, Sherry’s future husband, is at the Central Conservatory, where he studies viola. Almost a decade before he will meet his wife, he steps out of the conservatory into a war zone. Sherry is sixteen and sits in front of a television set in an apartment in Starkville, MS, as horrific reports of the violence in her homeland flood the screen. Sherry’s aunt, a student at the University of Chicago who had taken donations from Americans to the student protesters at Tiananmen Square, boards a plane back to Chicago with her three year old son. She is also pregnant. Plain clothes police waiting on the plane meet her and take her and her son to prison. They will be missing for nearly two weeks, while her family uses every connection they have to find them. It will take a couple of months and a promise that she will never again be politically active for the family to secure their release.

Violence is not an anonymous phenomenon. The aggressors, the injured, the killed, the witnesses: they all have faces.

 

June 4, 1989

29 years ago today the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square,
bullets flew overhead while a young man lay prostrate on the ground right outside the Central Conservatory gates.
He saw a little girl shot down,
an innocent bystander,
her Mother wailing.

A 16 year old girl across the ocean sat transfixed,
as events transpired on her TV screen.
She could not control her tears as images passed by of bloodied bodies piled on makeshift carts.

Hope turned to fear that day and for months after.
Innocent deaths, interrogations, terror, arrests…
The girl’s aunt, who had helped distribute funds to the peaceful protesters,
disappeared from the airport on route to Chicago,
her whereabouts unknown for weeks.
She had her 3 year old son with her, as well as another one on the way.

Fast forward 29 years…
I mark this day every year because forgetting is easy,
even for those who experienced the terror first hand,
like my husband.
even for those who believed so strongly in an ideal that they would’ve given their lives for it,
like my aunt.
Because life does go on.
We move forward.

So many have forgotten.
For each new generation the memory grows dimmer.
History is reevaluated and reinterpreted.
Black and white, right and wrong, everything is blurred.
Amnesia sets in. Ideals are lost.

But I’m still here, so is Wei.
We carry that history with us.
We will tell our stories every year,
even when no one is listening.

 

Quote for Today: T. C. Boyle

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I do feel that literature should be demystified. What I object to is what is happening in our era: literature is only something you get at school as an assignment. No one reads for fun, or to be subversive or to get turned on to something. It’s just like doing math at school. I mean, how often do we sit down and do trigonometry for fun, to relax. I’ve thought about this, the domination of the literary arts by theory over the past 25 years — which I detest — and it’s as if you have to be a critic to mediate between the author and the reader and that’s utter crap. Literature can be great in all ways, but it’s just entertainment like rock’n’roll or a film. It is entertainment. If it doesn’t capture you on that level, as entertainment, movement of plot, then it doesn’t work.
T.C. Boyle

Image: Lev among the books in his room © Grigory Kravchenko with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Suzanne Berne

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We are known, appreciated, even cherished by our favorite writers; every word of our favorite books seems to have been written for us. Within their sentences and paragraphs, those writers are forever available, forever patient, including us in their compassionate recognition of the impossible, exhausting complexity of being human (those “many thousand” selves), never ignoring us or abandoning us or finding us dull. It’s you, they whisper, as we turn their pages, you are the one I’ve been waiting to tell everything to.
Suzanne Berne

Public Domain Image via MaxPixel

Quote for Today: Heidi Barr

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So even though Grandpa’s life has closed its final chapter, the story that he embodied continues each time we take a handful of dirt to check moisture levels or turn our head at the sound of the wind shifting directions before a storm. It lives on as we give thanks for the abundance that we have, whatever it looks like. It lives on in every decision we make that puts someone else first.
Heidi Barr, Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside

Public Domain image via publicdomainpictures.net

Quote for Today: David McCullough

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Reading history is good for all of us. If you know history, you know that there is no such thing as a self-made man or self-made woman. We are shaped by people we have never met. Yes, reading history will make you a better citizen and more appreciative of the law, and of freedom, and of how the economy works or doesn’t work, but it is also an immense pleasure the way art is, or music is, or poetry is. And it’s never stale.

David McCullough

Public Domain Image via pxhere

Quote for Today: Laurie Perez

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Bringing a novel to light – revealing the form and cadence, shadows and demeanor of a protagonist constructed from thin air – linking scenes and synchronicity across translucent time – holding up a glass brimming with chilled, never-tasted liquid, then sipping from it with intoxicated focus – allowing lovers to make a perilous mess of things, fall apart and nakedly come back together again – looking through conjured windows deep into someone else’s snow-bound solitude, feeling utterly alone yet being all-connected: this is not writing. It’s world-creating.

It’s raw, exposed dreaming. It’s humbling. At first too personal and intimate to share, it evolves like a child into a life of its own until I have no say in what comes next.

It’s what I wake at 4am to say Yes to, the spinning possibility of a new story relentlessly commanding me to write it down so it can whirl in your experience.
Laurie Perez

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: Diane Setterfield

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All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes — characters even — caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.
Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: C. S. Lewis

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The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.

―C.S. Lewis, “On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature”
image via publicdomainimage.com

Quote for Today: Kerry Greenwood

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Truth came home one day, naked and wounded, having been beaten and cursed by the people who did not wish to hear, while his brother Falsehood went dressed in the brightest garments and feasted with every household.

“What shall I do?” cried Truth to the gods. “No man wishes to hear me and all beat me and throw things at me; look, I am covered with dung.”
“You are naked” said the goddess Maat, sympathetically. “No naked one can command respect. Therefore take these robes and you will walk without fear and all men will sit at your feet to hear your stories.” And she dressed Truth in Fable’s garments, and he was welcome at every house.
Kerry Greenwood, Out of the Black Land
Image: The Storyteller, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1773