This IS Your Life:

Achieving Success

in the Wake of Tragedy

In your life on this crazy planet, there may be one day, or perhaps one moment…in which everything changes. All your priorities, plans and dreams are suddenly obliterated­–replaced by–you don’t know what.

 Now you have to live your life to find out who you will be.

That moment came for me on February 18, 1979. I’ve kept a diary most of my life. This is what I wrote that day:

"The worst day of my life. About 2:10 this afternoon, Doug went out of control skiing in icy conditions down the Flying Mile. He hit a tree and broke his back and neck. It’s paralyzed him from the T-4 down. I started freaking out, when I saw him lying there in the snow, in front of a tree. He immediately said to me, ‘Sylvia, it feels like my back is broken.’ I immediately thought, Oh my God, will he ever walk again?”

The answer was no. He never walked again.

Looking back on it now, I see my whole life up to that point had prepared me to deal with this tragedy…but I didn’t know it at the time. Only going through the actual experience led me to a greater understanding of who I could be.

Come Ride with Me,

You Sons of Bitches

I remember those train rides in my early days when I was just 18. I was an old-timer on the railroad by then, having started at just 17.

We might take off about 2:00 in the morning pullin’ out of that yard down in the mountains of Kentucky. The old hog head would shout, “Hang on, boys, I’m gonna skin ‘er back!”

That meant he was goin’ full throttle. That’s what we had to do to make it up some of those mountains we climbed, with 100 cars packed full of coal from those old Kentucky coalmines.

Plus, of course, about six to eight cases of that good Kentucky moonshine all neatly packed in Mason jars, which we’d be sampling along the way. That moonshine made everything a little better and those cold nights a little warmer.

Come sunrise, we’d be headin’ down out of those mountains into the rolling, hilly blue grass country, which is one of the prettiest sights I ever did see. That big orange sun comin’ up over the horizon, the blue-green grass with dew sparkling all over it, the graceful horses grazing in the still air as clouds of steam rose up from their noses… and our old steam engine howlin’ with the steam rollin’ and the cinders flyin’. It’s a picture and a feeling I can never forget.

And damn if that moonshine didn’t make the colors a little brighter.

Intuition, the Third Mind

Every human being, no matter how well balanced their psyche and lifestyle, is subject to weaknesses when their survival is threatened. It is the imperfect side of human consciousness.

Once I was in math class at my school, Colégio São Luiz. I was in my second year of junior high at the time, still young. As a teenage prank, I threw a wadded up ball of paper at another student, who was sitting at a desk a little in front of me.

Our teacher, Brother Carlos, mistakenly thought another student and friend of mine, Cleo Aragão, had thrown it and kicked him out of class. Cléo protested his innocence, but it did him no good. Later, even though he knew it was me who had done the crime, he told the school board he didn’t know who had. As a result, nobody was punished for the episode.

I spent the rest of the morning feeling bad. I was only twelve, so I had no clue what was going on in my mind. When I met Cléo at recess, I felt even worse, awkward and embarrassed by the situation. Finally, a strange force led me to the teacher’s office, to talk to Brother Carlos. I confessed my sin, to remove all suspicion from Cléo.

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