Exploring life and the world with wide eyes and curiosity.

Machine Guns and Fireworks

Journal Entry. 1 Gennaio 2017 (January 1, 2017) – Milano

Day 3 of a cold that has kept me layin’ low. Enforced rest. Certainly no kicking-up-my-heels last night. By 8:30 p.m. I was yearning for sleep.

New Year’s Eve, 2009/2010 I stayed at home here, writing, as I generally do. I could have gone to the Piazza del Duomo then, for the Italian New Year’s festivities. Instead, I listened to the fireworks outside, while seated at the long table in my home on Via Bordighera.

The opportunity for a carefree, celebratory hurrah in front of the Duomo has passed. The reports I see from last night show the beloved cathedral and its perimeter barricaded, armored, protected by police and military with machine guns. All holiday revelers faced searches and long lines to proceed through to the New Year’s concert. The metro stops to the Duomo were closed completely.


It was, in fact, leading up to this as Christmas approached, too. Feeling spirited and festive, Piazza del Duomo visitors enjoyed the advent concerts amidst heavily armed military and barricades.

Last night, lying in bed as midnight approached, I listened to fireworks, but also sounds that could have easily been real bombs. How would I have known? After each explosion, sometimes feeling my bed shake, I listened for sirens – or their absence – and took the pulse by the tone of voices I heard out in the courtyard. I figured that if there were true danger, then sirens and voices would speak of such urgency.

This morning I read in the news reports of mayhem along the Naviglio Pavese, just two blocks away. I guess that some of those ka-booms may have, indeed, been bombs.


It’s come to this: proactive protection of beloved, sacred places; the thought that a loud “bang” could indeed be a bomb; The adjustment to and acceptance of bodily searches; the anticipation of attacks; the realization that every conspicuous, large gathering is potentially a vulnerable target and, therefore, a gut-driven avoidance of such crowds.

Does that mean the terrorists have won? They, who have no regard of life, cultural treasure or community well-being have changed us. They have changed how we think and what we do. Whether they kill any more people or destroy any more cultural heritage sites, or not, they have gotten into our heads.

I looked at New Year’s Eve reports in the Seattle Times and only found beautiful pictures of fireworks emanating from the Space Needle. There was no mention of machine guns or barricades. I guess we still enjoy being in an imaginary bubble there. (We’re more visibly armed against each other than we are against outside threats.)

When here in Europe, sitting so close to the center of a major, international city, I suppose I’m closer to genuine danger than when I’m sitting in my lovely home in Burien, looking out over the water. But I still chose to come. This is the first year (of 9 in a row) when the suspicion of danger, and the armament against it, has been so evident. Much has changed in the world in 9 years.


Many years ago in an Adult-Ed program, a particular exercise guided me in seeing when and how I was influenced by my fears, from the smallest hesitations to the largest decisions. It was eye-opening and a jolt to my view of myself. Since then, I have tried to at least recognize when it’s been fear that’s been constraining my choices. I don’t like to think of my decisions and outlook as being fear-based.

How do we reconcile it all? How do we balance fear and openness? How do we listen to the daily, world news reports and not develop protective callouses? How do we see machine guns and not succumb to the fear they arouse? (And that’s not even talking about the places in the midst of outright war!)

Being right here, right now, has made the world situation undeniable and right-up-in-my-face. The challenge then, is to acknowledge the terrors that exist, be prudently alert, choose openness anyway, then seek out and marvel at the kindnesses that reveal themselves at an individual level. It’s what I must do to keep from cowering, afraid.


(Images from Corriere della Sera)


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