A train strike was announced the day before our scheduled trip on a fast train from Rome to Venezia. Wanting official advice, if not reassurance, we walked to Roma Termini and waited in a long line to speak to a customer service agent.
Though the line was as long as the prospects for her day, the agent was pleasant, helpful and spoke English well. Hearing our concern and checking our booking, she leafed through a stapled batch of papers. After a few minutes, she lifted her head to announce that Trenitalia 9414 would run as scheduled.
The following day, we arrived at Termini with our backpacks, rollaboards and train tickets. Since we were early, the platform for our train was not yet posted on the electronic boards giving departure times and delays. We waited, not yet yielding to anxiety.
Finally, the details appeared on the board, and off we hurried to locate Coach 4 and our seats. Bags stowed in the overhead racks, we settled in, seats facing one other so I, constantly wary of motion sickness, could have a seat facing forward. Cords were retrieved and plugged in so our phones could remain powered without draining the batteries.
We were off! As the train reached its cruising speed of around 250 km/hr, we watched scenes from the countryside gallop by.
Then! Just outside of Florence, a notice appeared on the internal screens, accompanied by an announcement in Italian, that the train would be stopping at Florence.
OK. That was expected. Florence was a usual stop on the way to Venice. But no! We were not stopping to reload. The ride was done. The strike had struck. No more train.
Accosting an overwhelmed agent on the platform, we received all the advice she knew. See the customer service agent inside the station.
No problem, except a few hundred others followed the same directive.
As we finally assumed our place in line behind a young couple shouldering huge backpacks, the thought began to emerge. What if this is it for today? When the thought occurred that an alternate plan might be required, travel veterans had snagged all rental cars. Buses out of Florence were full. Regional trains were stranded. Hotel rooms were booked rapidly.
As the line inched toward the counter, using our phone with its new Italian SIM card, we searched until we found a hotel. Reserving one of the remaining rooms added a few hundred euros to the credit card statement.
A couple of hours later, we arrived at the front of the line and faced another pleasant, English-speaking customer service rep. She cancelled our tickets, steered us through requesting a refund and booked us on a train the next day.
The experience was more than a disruption. I felt dislocated and more than a tablespoon of resentment.
We were not supposed to ride in a taxi to the outskirts of Florence to stay in a poor hotel. The plan stipulated we were to be situated in Venice with my beautiful wife, basking in the city's romance while the gondolas floated by, and we dined on mouth-watering Italian food during the warm September evening.
My spiritual disposition was as out of joint as our physical dislocation.
As we stood in line beneath the dome of Santa Maria Nouvella, I could recite the usual trope. "Well, this is all part of the journey, is it not? Problem-solving is all part of the travel experience."
I didn't care. I wanted it to be the way I had planned. I was far from embracing this as a new adventure. “Have a good day" were fighting words!
As we stood in the backache-inducing long line, I wondered whether these dislocating events might become more than an occasional visitor in the coming stage of life. Some friends have been sidelined with hip and knee problems, early-onset dementia and Parkinsons’ disease.
If life could offer no guarantees, could there not at least be a letter of understanding?
If dislocation was to become more than an occasional visitor, it also occurred to me that I had better develop some skills, a better attitude and an intentional approach. Letting my inner child pout and wail in a crowded train station did not seem to be doing the job.
Confidence was the spiritual issue. I needed to regroup, to recover a sense that we had the strength to cope with this hurdle, that the future might still hold possibilities for joy.
When life goes sideways during a liminal state, is confidence the main issue or is something else involved?