Until recently, I’d never heard of Gander, a Newfoundland town. Then I heard about a broadway musical called Come From Away. That in turn pointed me toward a book titled The Day the World Came to Town; 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland.
On that terrible day in 2001, airspace over the United States was closed and planes were directed to land immediately. One of the challenges was for planes flying to the States from Europe. Many were directed to Canada. 38 were directed to the airport in Gander, a town of some ten thousand people. Within a matter of hours, their population was increased by over six thousand. No one knew how long these visitors would be on the ground but, as the day progressed, it became clear that the passengers weren’t leaving anytime soon.
The story of how the people of Gander rose to the challenge of providing food and shelter for the passengers is one of the great stories of our time. Among other things, I realized how much I take for granted — taking a shower, having my medications available, having a bed and a blanket, being able to call a loved one. The story of those five days includes things I never would have thought of. As an ex-smoker, for example, I know how uncomfortable nicotine withdrawal can be!
The responsiveness and resourcefulness of the people of Gander is truly impressive. Pharmacists came together to get passengers their prescriptions (one thousand were filled the first day!) Veterinarians came together to tend to pets in the baggage section. They even found a way to provide Orthodox Jewish passengers with kosher food.
The passengers’ time in Gander is filled with profound personal moments. Villagers responding with compassion to a couple with a firefighter son gone missing after the Towers collapsed. Two couples trying to console children they’d adopted in Russia. A rabbi making himself available to speak with a villager who had hid his Jewish background.
I am drawn to this story because it offers hope. I and you have been in situations of powerlessness and fear only to have an angel intervene with a tangible offer of help. In Gander, the entire town responded. It is reassuring to know that, during a time that is otherwise typified by senseless violence and self-centered politics, there are some good people in the world. Not saints but simple down-to-earth folks who, on a dark day, responded with true lovingkindness. Mister Rogers once encouraged us to look for “the helpers” during bad times. He would be pleased to know of the people of Gander.
Reflection: What has your experience been with helpers during dark days?
For your enjoyment: Here is a scene from Come From Away. Enjoy. And yes the passengers did establish a scholarship fund for Gander!
One of my friends was brought from the Philippines to Hawaii as a servant by the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Once in Hawaii, Ferdinand did not keep all of his servants. Some of them were not given work permits and were subjected to the deportation process. Being in the US without a work permit is a “status offense” and offenders are put into Federal Prison while awaiting deportation. My friend worked not only for Marcos but for other very wealthy people as well. None of them helped her. He fellow “status offenders” helped her by sharing the snacks they earned by working in the Federal Prison. Sometimes it seems like the less people have the more they are willing to share and vice versa.
I forgot to mention that the former servants of the deposed dictator were not well received when they were returned to the Philippines to live under the new regime. This story is not a hopeful one but I carry my friend Thelma with me, in me, so maybe it is hopeful if I can help others like her as they have helped me.