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Commentary: To Be and To Survive

HOST INTRO: Dealing with winter doesn’t come easy for those born in the tropics. Commentator Rachel Vianna learned something the first time she ever felt cold, about certain things that may be beyond our control.


Every Christmas I would religiously watch the movie Home Alone. It was 95 degrees outside and I kept wishing that the Brazilian summer would give way to a swift winter storm. Of all holidays, Christmas did not fit into a tropical context. Our pine trees would always take on this awful burned look. I wanted to build a snowman, and wear a tacky reindeer sweater without sweating profusely. At the time my dad traveled a lot. He was a businessman with the passport stamps of a pilot. So when I turned 6 he finally decided to give me what I wanted. We flew to New York in the dead of winter.

My mom was already there and waiting for me with my first winter coat. It went all the way down to my feet. Emerald green. I felt unbeatable. I had a combination of Matilda’s powers and McCauley Culkin’s ingenuity.

I also had big shoulder pads, and it was relatively easy to feel so powerful when I had my dad right next to me. But as we walked through the drafty streets of Manhattan, I realized that my coat wasn’t doing its job. The wind was strong enough to penetrate the thick wool and send shivers down my entire body. I had never felt that cold before. It was like I was freezing from within; like my body didn’t belong to me anymore.

Finally we reached the American Museum of Natural History. I had always been a huge dinosaur fan. But as I looked up to the T-Rex in the lobby, and as I tried to imagine him alive, I realized how insignificant I was. Not only me, but all of us, including my mom and dad. If this is what is left of the King of dinosaurs, then what chance did we stand?

Seven years later I learned what real dread was. We were back in Brazil, and my mother’s screams weaved into my dreams. As I began to realize that I was actually awake, a deep fear set in, and made me unsure of whether I needed to run or puke. I never heard her so terrified in my entire life.

I stood up and went to reach for the door. An unfamiliar voice brought me to a halt and I held my breath. In the dark, I knew we were not alone. We were being robbed. I called the police and locked myself in my bathroom, trying to come to terms with the fact that there was nothing else that I could do. These were not the burglars from Home Alone. There could be no heroic feat. I prepared to see my bathroom door be smashed. I wondered if it would hurt. Everything else is a bit of a blur.

Police arrived. My dad had been shot. Lost in my sleep, I never heard the gunshot – only the aftermath. There was not that much blood, but he shivered uncontrollably, as if he had been left to freeze in the coldest day of the year, on those windy streets of New York.

The bullet pierced his leg and missed an artery only by a few millimeters. The doctors never removed it. My dad was forced to accept his powerlessness – and so was I. Today I’m often reminded of that as I walk the streets of New York on my own. Yes, the cold might still get under my skin, but somehow, I know I’ll be ok.


That green coat sits in Rachel’s closet until today – And it still fits.

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