I was 35 in June, 1989, when military tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square to quell the “student protests” of the Chinese government. Walking into the

Square, my stomach felt as uneasy and unsettled as when I watched the news a full 26 years ago.

This was the only morning the smog was a factor on our trip, and I felt its presence an almost necessary complement to my emotional reaction to standing there. The air was heavy, oppressive, restricting, and created an additional component to my feelings of solemnity.

At one end of the square is Mao Zedong’s tomb. Beyond the street at the other end is the gigantic painting (redone yearly, to preserve it in the smog) of his likeness. Although most “outsiders” concur that classic Maoism had failed (contributing to thousands of people dying of starvation), his presence is still very much a part of the Chinese culture.

In China, both Google (and consequently gmail) and Facebook are restricted (as in banned). The Internet connections are slow and monitored. When I did manage to log on, I felt the eerie feeling that someone was watching.

What price, democracy? What price, freedom of speech?

Before we took the underpass to leave the Square and continue to The Forbidden City, I asked our guide to “give me one minute.” I stood at the end of the square and with tears literally running down my cheeks and allowed myself to “feel my feelings.”

I prayed for the people of China. I prayed to never see Tiananmen Square on the news connected to any negativity or oppression or protests ever again. But then a second thought entered my mind…

Years ago, I stood on the Lexington Common, in Massachusetts. There’s a rock there with engraving on it, attributed to (colonial farmer) Captain John Parker in 1775. It says, “If they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Through my travels, I have a much better understanding of this communist society. And although I hope my prayer comes true, I also know this Square may someday be in the world news again as a focal point for change. I just hope the changes will take place peacefully.

This day, more so than most, I was overcome by gratitude that I was lucky enough to have been born in the United States of America.