Chilean Chronicles, Part 73: Kindness Blooms From Veronica in Rio

Close to 20 years ago, a young student named Veronica boarded a plane in Brazil and flew to Massachusetts.

Once there, she traveled to Wilbraham Monson Academy, a prep school in the community that was for years best known to the outside world as the home of Friendly’s Ice Cream.

Just 15 years old, Veronica had never traveled that far away from home, and, while she liked the adventure, she also missed her family.

A lot.

But there were teachers at the school who looked out for her.

Dunreith was one of them.

Then a single mother of a 2-year-old boy, she listened to, and advocated for, Veronica.

Although she returned to her native country after the year ended, Veronica never forgot the support Dunreith gave her.

Fast forward 16 years.

My beloved mother-in-law Helen died in late September 2011, four short months after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma.

Now a single mother with two children of her own, Veronica again boarded a plane from Brazil and flew to Massachusetts to lend comfort to her mentor in her time of grief.

The gesture had its intended effect.

Veronica’s presence and the love it contained gave Dunreith a balm on which she has drawn in the years since her mother’s passage.

This afternoon, after a journey that began outside our apartment in Santiago at 5:45 a.m., Dunreith and I landed in Rio.

I’ll be attending, teaching, speaking and participating in a hackathon at the Global Investigative Journalism conference here.

Veronica, who had flown up from Brasilia, met us at the gate and welcomed us to her country.

Early impressions of a place matter a lot.

Rio is pulsing with energy.

We drove past poor boys standing in the midst of four lanes of oncoming traffic selling small packets of food.

We saw cranes looming in the distance, the evidence of extensive construction being put in place for next year’s World Cup, the 2016 Olympic Games and the city’s overall growth and expansion.

We watched a car drive past us on the grass and sand before going back over the curb and into the standard traffic, and a helmet less bicyclist drive against the cars and past us.

People in Rio say that things will always work out in the end, Veronica said, laughing.

We checked into our hotel, which is on the beach.

We got our room and stepped out onto the balcony. We could see and hear the ocean.

Veronica walked with us to a nearby mall, where we strolled and found our first Brazilian meal.

I had a serving of rice and black beans with grilled chicken, and enjoyed the beans so much I had another serving.

Mostly, though, we sat and talked.

We discussed Veronica memories of Wilbraham Monson, how she remembers Dunreith as a strong woman, and moved from there to the position of women in Brazilian society.

Together we reflected on how we decide what we most want to contribute to the world in the time that we are given on the planet.

As she spoke and Dunreith listened, I could imagine them talking in a Wilbraham classroom almost two decades ago.

But whereas then the exchange was between a student and a teacher, now it was two women and mothers being with each other.

Veronica is not only giving us her time.

She is helping us navigate the challenges one inevitably faces, from hailing a taxi to successfully using an ATM, in a country where you have neither language nor experience.

And, perhaps even more important, she is working to make our time special by sharing what she loves about her home with us.

With each explanation of a Brazilian dish or sight that she shows us or person she introduces us to, Veronica is returning to Dunreith in a very real way the care my wife showed her 18 years ago.

It’s a clear reminder that kindness, like seeds, can take years to flourish.

But the blooming, when it happens, can be drenched in beauty and meaning that is even greater because of the time that has passed since the initial contact.

The conference and our time with Veronica continues tomorrow.

I can’t wait for both.

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