Welcome to The Rock
On September 11, 2001, 38 planes made emergency landings in Gander, Newfoundland and brought the population from about 9,000 to almost 16,000 for five days. The people of Gander and a few other surrounding towns took “the plane people” to their homes, fed them, and cared for them in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty that defined those days following the attack. A year later, Jim DeFede wrote a book called, “The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland” which became some of the source material for Come From Away -a musical you’ll love forever if you get a chance to see it.
The musical opens with a rousing song called, “Welcome to the Rock”, where we’re introduced to the tough as nails Newfoundlanders. They sing:
Welcome to the land where the winters try to kill us and we say, "we will not be killed."
Welcome to the land where the waters try to drown us and we said, "we will not be drowned."
Welcome to the land where we lost our loved ones and we said, "we will still go on"
Welcome to the land where winds try to blow, and we said “No!”
Burdens and Blessings:
I remember the days following 9/11. The way we all felt was helpless. One line from the musical that always stands out it me is this one: “I need something to do – Cause I can't watch the news. No I can't watch the news anymore.” I felt like there was nothing any of us could do but watch. And watching the news pulled us down into a spiral of fear and anger and grief.
But the people of Gander had a blessing in all of this. They had the ability to do something to help. They couldn’t erase what happened or control the ever growing body count, but they could make a casserole or make up a bed or do laundry for the plane people. When their town almost doubled for five days, they had a terrific burden which turned out to be a terrific blessing.
I’ve seen a lot of Broadway musicals and they’ve all been amazing, but talk to anyone who’s seen this one and they'll probably tell you it was like no other. They may not be able to pinpoint why. There was a definite camaraderie between the performers and audience, but I’ve seen shows like that before. It was shorter than most musicals at just an hour and a half and no intermission, but that’s not unheard of. It evoked emotions and we could relate to the characters, but most shows do that. As I was writing this post it occurred to me: this show is special because, as an audience, we became the plane people. For ninety minutes, we were welcomed into the homes and hearts of the people of Gander the way almost 7,000 people were the week of Sept. 11, 2001.
Why does all this matter? I had a wonderful experience in a theatre. So what? We’ve all had those kinds of experiences, but I think “Come from Away” taught me something we need to understand right now.
You Are Here:
Katharine Lackey of USA Today, wrote this about the people of Gander, “In a world today seemingly fraught with division, terrorism and hate, they’d do it all over again. Kindness is woven into the very fabric of their nature — they don’t know any other way to live.”
When the plane people were finally permitted to leave the planes, Beverly, a female pilot, says: There’s a giant map on the wall of the airport and someone has written in red marker, "You are here.”
Like it or not, we will all have to look back on this time and evaluate how we responded. We are here. How dare I compare COVID19 to a terrorist attack? Well, are you scared? Do you worry about protecting yourself and those you love? As terrible as September 11 was, roughly 3,00 people died. As of today, we have lost 148,000 people to COVID19. I’m not saying we should compare personal tragedies, but the trauma of a global pandemic is reminiscent of that terrifying time 19 years ago.
Here's a Question:
What are the blessings in the burden for you? Just like Gander, we can get to the real work of helping people. It’s the casserole making, bed making, laundry stuff I talked about earlier. And I don’t know what that looks like for you, but it’s reaching out. Find a safe way to serve the needs of others because there are plenty. Find a way to be a light to others because it is dark. Find a way to be informed not to take a side, but so you can make wise decisions. We don’t need more division. We need more of the hospitality and love I learned from the people of Gander.
I hope you’ll take a minute to listen to the finale of this beautiful musical:
“On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, there’s an airport.
And next to it is a town called Gander.
Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.”
Whether you like it or not, you are here. We’re in the midst of a situation we never imagined. The people of Gander probably didn’t imagine the world coming to town, but they did what was right and they don’t regret it. I hope to have no regrets either. I am here.