(from conversations and journal entry, May 4, 2017)
The Broadway musical “Come From Away” is dedicated to Newfoundland’s response to 9/11. It features events that took place in and around the town of Gander, whose population of 10,000 nearly doubled for 5 days. Dozens of planes landed and thousands of re-directed passengers slept in schools, community centers and Salvation Army facilities. The musical focuses on the town of Gander, but towns and people from all over Newfoundland found ways to feed and help those passengers.
I spoke with a few of those people this week.
On that Monday night in 2001 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, there was a meeting of church music leadership in one of the Salvation Army churches. A little before 9pm, as the meeting wrapped up, someone came in and said, “We have to turn this place into a hotel in two hours.”
By midnight, there were 200 beds with blankets and sheets as well as towels. Church members supplied toiletries, food and other necessities for the passengers for those five days and drove them out for errands and activities. One evening that week, the church’s brass band had practice as usual right there amidst the passengers. Instead of rehearsing, they played a concert inviting an opera singer among the passengers to participate. The sounds and words of “Amazing Grace” rang out.
Don stopped talking then and took a moment to look out the window. Even the memory of that moment still took him to a holy place.
The following February, Don and his wife Bernice flew to New York City to assist with the volunteer efforts at Ground Zero. They have each, in fact, along with many Newfoundlanders, volunteered at disaster sites around the States in the past several years. Ground Zero, New Orleans, the Jersey Shore and quite a few more.
They are a generous people, full of compassion. They don’t just open the doors in Newfoundland. They don’t just open the airports, their homes or their churches or their wallets. They open their hearts and they change the world.