Joe and I spent much of last Thursday weeping. Good tears. Some of the tears were because of sadness, but most were because of compassion and kindness.
While we were in London, we went to see the musical Come From Away, the true story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada because of the 9-11 attacks. The musical is based on several true events and uses many of the real names of the people from Gander and surrounding areas and some of the 7,000 travelers they showed hospitality to until the planes and passengers were able to depart following the ban on flights.
It’s a beautiful story. And a beautiful musical. It does take you back to the sadness and disbelief of the day and the aftermath. They don’t gloss over the fear, confusion, distress, and sadness of the events at the time and the losses, fear, sadness, and change that followed. At one point during the show, when I had completely worn through the tissues I had brought along (not enough), I thought, I wonder if I am actually now processing some of the grief of 9-11, or some more of it. So much sadness and loss then. And still.
And yet. And yet. Here is a story–true–of people responding with kindness. Doing what needed to be done.
Joe and I spent some time in Newfoundland in 2014 and one of our hosts there had told us about how people in Gander and beyond had responded. She was one of them. She said, “It’s just what people do.”
Passengers were brought to church halls and schools, and put up in private homes. If you had room, you took some guests, and church ladies baked and cooked around the clock so people had food to eat. It’s just what people do. Guests were taken on tours of local lakes and forests, treated to local music and attractions. Everyone had to leave all their belongings behind on the planes. So the hospitals and pharmacies gave people medicine and people gave clothing and did laundry. Our host said, “There were children too, and they didn’t have their toys. And I knew that some of my family and neighbors had already done their Christmas shopping, so I said, we need to get toys for these children, and I don’t want your used toys, I want new things, those things you’ve bought for Christmas. Let’s give them to these children.” It’s just what people do.
The time in the play when the tears really started flowing was a scene (true) when a number of passengers from somewhere in Africa had been put on a school bus. They were being taken to a Salvation Army camp where they would be housed. But they don’t speak English. And they don’t know where they are, except on a bus in the middle of the woods, and they don’t know why. Here’s the dialogue between Gwandoya (a passenger) and Garth (the bus driver):
GWANDOYA There are soldiers everywhere. I see the fear in my wife’s eyes . . . The man at the front opens the door.
GARTH I say, “here you are. Out you go.” But he doesn’t understand. And he’s not getting off. None of them are. . . But then I notice that his wife is clutching a bible – well, I can’t read it obviously, but their bible – it’ll have the same number system ours does –
so I ask to see it and I’m searching for something – and then in Philippians 4:6 – I give them their bible and I’m pointing and saying, look!
“Philippians 4:6 – Be anxious for nothing. Be anxious for nothing.”
GWANDOYA That’s how we started speaking the same language.
Be anxious for nothing. Philippians 4:6.
This is probably the best advertisement for not only memorizing Bible passages, but their citations as well (which I have been quite lazy about), that I’ve ever heard.
It’s just what people do.
One thing that made the musical remarkable is that the hero of the show is not an individual. It’s not the stranger who comes from out of town into a bad situation and saves the day. It’s not the unlikely hero from within who summons up the courage or discovers a secret power to defeat evil. It’s a community of people responding to strangers. Some make friendships that endure and grow through the years. Some recipients give back or pay it forward in big ways. Everyone is changed, even when life returns to “normal,” and the “plane people” leave.
We are grateful for these good tears, especially as we arrive in South Africa. We are strangers, not stranded, but sent, and trying to remember Philippians 4:6 and to speak that language with others too.