|A monastery near Chengdu|
Six years ago while backpacking through the mountains of western Tibet I stopped at a small orphanage to help build dormitories. I cannot say my friends and I were the best of labor, but by doing so we were allowed to sleep under a roof and stay settled for five or so days. There were around fifty orphans at the time, the oldest my age, and they were fed, clothed, and educated within the compound. Settled on a valley floor, a remote valley, the desolate town I had last visited was their closest “city” – which was hours away.
On day three I heard screaming, the shrieks of a child’s pain. My guess was that one of the orphans had hurt them-self while playing, but others began screaming as well. High pitched shrieks, each one echoing throughout the valley only to be soon followed by another. I cautiously walked out to investigate what was happening.
I saw two long lines of children, most all of them with tears washing away the caked dirt on their cheeks. Facing one-another about four paces apart with their arms outstretched and palms opened skyward, between them paced a man wielding a splintered piece of lumber. Back and forth he walked the lines as does a military commander, approaching each child to ask a question. Depending on their answer he would either nod and keep walking, or raise his arm to bring the bat crashing down upon the child’s outstretched hands. It was math class.
I stood there in horror. Watching the red stained bat beat down on the hands of one child after another, after another. The children would try to wipe the blood away and pick out the splinters whenever the teachers back was turned, but when caught doing so they’d be re-lashed. There I stood, telling myself this can’t be real – but it was. The terrific shrieks of the bloody and splintered children who were being quizzed on addition and subtraction was real, and I was really just watching. For the rest of our stay there was no more playing Frisbee or catch, it was to painful for their infected and butchered hands.
|Hiking around 17,500 feet in Tibet.|
Most people I know proudly claim that they have no regrets – but I sure as hell do. I regret standing besides those children, doing nothing. I regret not tearing that splintered bat from the teachers hand and beating his nose out the back of his head. I regret listening to my friends and translator who told me it wasn’t my place to intervene – who told me that “it is what it is.”
To this day I still feel useless. As if I wasted my one chance in life to have been a hero. Our most important experiences are not those when one gets to prove themselves to others, they are when you’re able to prove who you are to yourself. I have tried for years now to justify my lack of action, accept that it was in everybody’s best interest that I refrained from assaulting that man, but I’ve never been able to – I failed.
There is no other time in my life that I so often wish I could go back to. Go back and prove to myself I had it in me to be a man. Granted, I was 15. But the feeling of uselessness I experienced then is the same feeling I experience now, and will remain the same throughout my adult life. As selfish a desire it may be, I dearly hope that one day I will be given a second chance. That before I die I will be in a situation that requires a real decision, and that my decision will be to act.
What will you do when your time comes?