I just met this lovely man in Siena, Italy, about 30 miles south of Florence. He spoke no English and I know very little Italian, sadly. But he learned that I was American and he began excitedly telling me all about “Liberace,” or so I thought at first. Was he a fan of the flamboyant American pianist? Then I realized he was actually talking about “liberation.” When he was a small child during World War II, American Marines marched victoriously right through the outskirts of Siena, exactly where we stood on his family’s farm. He had to get out a handkerchief to wipe tears from his eyes as he described the event and tried to explain what it meant to him. The Americans gave him chocolate, and they brought him freedom. He wanted to thank me, although I deserved no thanks at all.
I think he went on to express sadness for the violence we all live with in our modern world. Americans were recently warned to be extra cautious all over the world. Given recent events, I thought seriously about cancelling my trip. But we must continue to live our lives and not give in to fear. The reward is that strangers reach out to each other in friendship instead of shrinking back in fear. I’m glad I took this trip.