I moved to Sao Paulo, Brasil in August of last year for a temporary assignment. It was a great promotion for me, making me the youngest director in my company at 29. I work as a business unit director responsible for marketing and sales for a global pharmaceutical company, and the company was launching a new subsididiary in Latin America's largest city.
Seven years ago at the age of 23, I had my first experience in Brasil when I won an internship with another large pharmaceutical company. I lived, worked, and played in the world's 3rd largest city for 16 life changing months where among other things I became fluent in Portuguese and met the woman who ould become my wife four years later.
I don't believe in coincidences.
In around April of 2005, my bosses boss strode into my office buried inside the corporate headquarters in New Jersey, and asked me if I would be interested in taking a challenging assignment in Brasil. Now, when I joined the company in 2002, I joined with the understanding that I would never have a chance to return to Brasil, at least not with this company, because we did not have a subsidiary in this market. I asked my bosses boss, why me, and he replied that they were looking for someone in the company that had US launch experience in the cardiovascular market, was fluent in Portuguese, and had a working knowledge of the Brasilian market. And I was the only person in the whole company who fit the bill. Where do I sign up, I remarked.
My return to Brasil has been exceptionally chaotic. Moving 3000 miles, finding an apartment, launching a company, while struggling to find some kind of balance in my life. Coming back here represents the closing of a cipher of some kind for me. Seven years ago, this was where I began my first novel, (working title: One Blood). Seven years and five cities later I have finished the novel but now my dilemma is, how to get published in America from another continent. But this will be a recurring topic in my blogs, just not for today.
So last week, I'm sitting in my office at work when suddenly I hear the screams of sirens in unison. I look out my 15th floor window and in addition to the rain, I see all of this smoke coming from the local airport, Congonhas, which handles all domestic flights. People on my floor are panicked and no one really knows what's going on. My wife calls me to tell me that a plane that was trying to land there, skidded off the runway, crossed a busy highway, and crashed into a warehouse owned by the same airline. As I watched on cnn.com with bated breath, the totals began coming in, 191 dead. This marked Brasil's deadliest air disaster and the third major calamity within the past 12 months.
Last November, a passenger airline crashed into a private jet and crashed in the Amazon forest killing 154. Then in January, a subway station collapsed killing 45. And here I am, worried more about my daily sales numbers than these trajedies, numb to anything that does not affect me directly. Ignorant of the fact that these mass tragedies are slowly reshaping our world. For those of us left, we need to heed these warnings, but instead we ignore them, until we are the next one's who have to die for someone else to wake up.
Like the story of the man who desperately needed to get back to Sao Paulo last week for the birth of his daughter. He was booked on a later flight, but switched with a physician (who works very closely with me), also on the plane. The physician told me that his stomach had been hurting all day and he took advantage of getting off the plane to get some medicine for his belly. 45 minutes later, his plane had been reduced to flames. He expressed to me that it was like he got to experience everything in his life for the first time again. Holding and kissing his wife and children. Eating his dinner. Taking a shower. Everything had gained meaning to him. He had gotten a second chance at life and he was not about to waste it.
I admire him. He is certainly one of the lucky ones. But why do we have to avoid death to start living and appreciating life?
I think I've finally gotten the point. I hope that you do too.
Until we speak again..
"Life is not the opposite of death; birth is, because life has no opposite."