I’m so taken with the story of 9000 Gander, Newfoundland residents welcoming nearly 7000 “plane people” on 911 when the USA closed its airspace. The musical “Come From Away” has been playing the Elgin Theatre in Toronto for many months. Originally I told myself the tickets were too expensive but a few weeks ago the magnet of the story drew me in. And tonight was my time – 8:00 pm to be precise.
I showed up at Anne and Ihor’s bed and breakfast around 6:00 pm today, in plenty of time to take the UP Express train downtown. Or so I thought. A few hundred metres from Union Station, we came to a halt. A fellow came on the PA to say “There’s been a partial power failure at Union. We don’t have any signals. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Major oops. And so the sweat flowed. I knew the musical had no intermission, and most likely “latecomers will be seated at an appropriate opportunity” wouldn’t apply. So is that it, my expensive evening up in smoke?
Ten or fifteen minutes later, we were moving again and soon I was standing on Front Street, twenty minutes to curtain time. I started running the seven blocks but my knee immediately shouted its protest. So power walking it was.
I took my seat at 7:55. Thank you, dear gods of the theatre.
There was so much to revel in over the next 100 minutes:
1. A young stranded American guy, so worried about a Newfie stealing his wallet. He gazed in wonder at homes with unlocked doors, and voices inside that said “It’s open … come on in.”
2. A Muslim fellow enduring insults from a few of his fellow travellers. “You’re not an American!” “I don’t want to get back on the plane with him.” Turns out that he was a chef at home, and offered his cooking skills to the locals. They were hesitant at first but finally said yes, much to the pleasure of countless taste buds.
3. A local resident asked the question “Are there any animals aboard these planes?” She was originally told no but suspected that wasn’t true. Her digging revealed nineteen creatures and she cared for them like a saint, despite official warnings to keep off the planes.
4. An American woman was desperate to learn the fate of her son, a New York firefighter. She was befriended by a lovely grey-haired Ganderian, who held her to her bosom. They remain friends long after the planes have left Newfoundland and together they face the reality of the son’s death.
5. Then there was the gorgeous choral singing of “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”:
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness ever joy
Present were Christians with bowed heads, two Jewish men in communion, two Hindu women with eyes to the sky, and our Muslim friend. The hearts soared.
6. Imagine a kitchen. Travellers looked on in awe as locals danced to the music of the fiddle, squeeze box, penny whistle and guitar. Joy abounded, all through the room. And the American folks got to taste a Newfie rum called screech (yum) and kiss a cod (yuck).
7. Love far afield: a British gentleman and a woman from Dallas, Texas were on the same plane, and in the same community for five days. Their accents and their hearts blended. Finally, he flew back to Europe and she to the USA. But it wasn’t finally. He came to visit. They continued the falling in love. And they married, with a honeymoon in Newfoundland.
8. After thousands of visitors had left the rock, life slowed gradually to normal. Tasks briefly left undone were accomplished. Someone opened the suggestion box at Gander City Hall and found $60,000 in cash inside. Tricky tourists. The Newfies didn’t want money, only thanks.
September 11-15, 2001 … April 4, 2019
Twin celebrations of life
And we stood to applaud humanity