Stranger On The Train

Not Smart Enough for College (25)

While our oldest son, Paul, was in the Air Force and stationed in Germany, our family went on vacation together to Rome, where I lived for a short time as a young man.


We enjoyed the full range of classic family vacation experiences, from fun and exciting to, weird, off the wall, and even poignant and painful.


We spent one particular day enjoying the sights of the old city, eating gelato, and mingling with native Italians on local buses and trains. It had been a great day and by the time evening came we were tired and wanted to get back to our rented villa in the outskirts of town.


Little did we realize that our day was just warming up. I was about to be involved in a mugging that went wrong, for me as well as the would-be thieves.


After waiting sometime for the right train, we finally boarded, along with several others, including two men carrying two big, heavy ice chests. They stacked the chests on top of each other and then seemed to create a diversion by awkwardly struggling with them, knocking them over, and making quite a scene. We had been warned about possible pickpockets and these two guys, for whatever reason, emitted enough bad vibes that we kept a close watch on them.


We believe they wanted to use the noise to get the people on the train to focus on the commotion while one of them or a confederate picked some pockets. I was an “‘old geezer”’ and an American standing close to them, I assumed they thought I would be an easy target. However, their carefully laid plan (that I assume worked many times previously) didn't quite work out so well this time and unintentionally I stopped their dastardly deeds.


One of them knocked the top chest over, and there followed not one, but two loud noises. The first came from the chest hitting the floor and the second, just a microsecond later, came from me yelling loudly as I realized it had just filleted my leg. Now normally I am a quiet, unassuming man not likely to bring the spotlight to myself, but this was a different situation that created both surprise and pain.


As the ice chest fell, the locking device gouged a deep groove of flesh off my leg from mid-calf all the way to the ankle. I could barely put weight on it. Our son and my wife quickly assessed the problem and got me a place to sit. I pulled up my pant leg and took my first look. It was not a pretty sight.


My daughter-in-law gave me the only clean absorbent thing we had on hand (a feminine product!) to stop the bleeding, but it was not easy to get under control.


Meanwhile the two guys who caused the problem in the first place hovered over me way too closely apologizing profusely. They must have said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m sorry” more than fifty times. They seemed nervous and uneasy but stayed near me and got off the train with us.


While all this drama was going on Peter, our youngest son, kept a close eye on the two men. He was going to protect his family from any possibility that they might still try to pick our pockets. Fortunately, they decided to play it cool, get off the train with us, and then immediately hopped back on another train (I don’t know if they tried their plan again, but I suspect that they did).


While this experience had some real physical pain involved and I still have a nasty scar to prove it, we start to laugh now as a family whenever we bring it up. It is one of those things that was not so funny in the moment but gets funnier with time.


Recounting this story helped us think about some of the resiliency tools that helped us get through our unexpected challenge.


  • Love and immediate concern for each other
  • Fast action to provide needed care
  • Recognition of continuing threat and prevention of future problems
  • Increased family closeness and gratitude that nothing worse happened
  • An enduring sense of humor about a shared experience


How about you? How are your family’s strengths helping you get through your unexpected challenges this unusual year?



Happy Failing Forward,


Anne and Calvert

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