On our return trip to Florence from the Cinque Terre, an incident occurred on the train that shook Brett and I to our core, and still haunts us to this day.
We were assigned seats at the back of a car on the train. There was another couple sitting up toward the front, but otherwise the car was empty. Right before departure two young men entered the car. They spoke to each other briefly, in a language other than Italian, and one sat at the window in the row directly in front of us; the other chose a seat across the aisle and one row forward and they ceased communication. Both had small bags with them, and after sitting down produced laptops and stayed busy with them.
After a short distance, the conductor entered the car from the rear, to check on tickets. We showed him ours, then he asked the young man in front of us who showed his ticket. Then he approached the second young man across the aisle. He did not have a ticket.
The young man started out playing dumb, like he didn’t know what the conductor wanted and couldn’t understand what he was saying. The conductor was persistent, in both Italian and English, and offered to sell him a ticket if he didn’t have one. The young man continued to shrug his shoulders, try to look helpless, and so forth. The man in front of us watched carefully, but made no move to help his friend.
The standoff escalated, and eventually both the young man across the aisle and the conductor were shouting at each other. The tension grew thick enough you could have cut it with a knife. Brett and I sat in our seats, feeling more and more terrified as we began to feel there was a good chance of a gun being produced, with the conductor being shot. We calculated where we were sitting, and that we would be in the line of fire with no place for us to go or hide if shots were fired. We were too afraid to speak to each other, but held each others’ hand tightly and hoped things did not get any worse than they already were.
And then we remembered we were in Italy. The conductor was not armed, and although he got in the young man’s face he did not physically touch him or threaten him in any way. The chance of a gun being produced was not impossible, but about as close to zero as it could get. This was not America, where the young man could easily have been carrying a gun in his bag and less hesitancy to use it. Our joint relief at this realization was almost palpable and our grip on each others’ hand eased.
At the next stop the conductor escorted the young man out of the car; police were waiting on platform. The young man in front of us left as well, staying a short distance behind the conductor and his friend. We wondered if he had been the “handler” for the other.
Men, women, and children have been shot in U.S. while shopping at the supermarket or at the mall, while watching a movie in a theater, or attending a ball game, sitting in their classroom, or while in church. There is no place anyone is truly safe from being shot in our country any more, and I think we all carry that fear inside of us, whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not. We know a shooting can happen anywhere, at any occasion, and affect anyone. The small incident we encountered on a train in Italy brought that fear home for us, and we remember and feel it again every time we read about another shooting in our country.
I have no problems with gun ownership whatsoever, but there is something much deeper going on in our country than any arguments over “freedom” or the ownership of guns, and a sickness that has taken hold. And we seem to have made a choice to live with that sickness day in and day out.