My favorite Mr. Rogers quote, which is as relevant now as it was when he first said it, is “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
On 9/11, a day that was filled with devastation from selfish, cowardly acts, there were countless examples of ordinary people stepping up to do extraordinary things, and helping complete strangers with an immense amount of kindness and compassion. I had heard the stories of many of the heroes on that day and the days to come, but there was one story that I hadn’t heard before: the story of the people of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada.
When the U.S. closed its airspace, 38 planes carrying 6,579 passengers were forced to land in a small, remote town of only 10,000 people. What the locals did next is extraordinary, and the subject of Come From Away, the latest musical to open on Broadway.
Nick and I headed through Times Square to catch the show while it is still in previews.
When I arrived I was excited to see my name on the sign!
We had fabulous front row seats.
So we made sure to take our best(?) selfie.
Then we eagerly waited for the show to begin, not quite knowing what to expect. How exactly do you make a successful (or… any, really) musical about one of the worst days in American history?
We were about to find out. Cheers!
The show begins on Tuesday morning with a typical day in Gander. Then you watch as the locals start to hear the news, first that planes have been used in terrorist attacks in the U.S., and next that 38 planes would be diverted to Gander. While most people would immediately protest this decision, not wanting to put their own lives, or the lives of their families, at risk, the people of Gander reacted heroically and extraordinarily. They immediately began thinking about what the “plane people,” as they called them, would need. Several went to the local store and were told by the manager to just take whatever they needed. Bus drivers who were on strike immediately got back to work so that they could transport passengers. Others cleared space in schools and community buildings, gathering yoga mats, blankets, changes of clothes, and whatever else they could find.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their kindness was overwhelming and, had this been a fictional story, would have bordered on the unbelievable. Pharmacies filled prescriptions for free, volunteers cooked enough food for over 6,500 people for every meal, locals invited plane people into their homes to shower and stay the night and, recognizing just how scary this experience was for them, entertained the passengers with songs and took them on hunting trips.
It was as if every person in the entire town asked themselves two questions: what do I have and how can I use it to help?
The plane people ended up staying in Newfoundland until Saturday and for nearly five days these strangers from countries all over the world were welcomed as cherished family. And not a single Gander resident accepted any money for what they had done.
As I’m typing this I’m tearing up remembering stories from Come From Away and the countless examples of the outpouring of love that these Canadians showed in the midst of such heartbreak. Watching the performance was much the same feeling, holding back tears (and, in some instances, letting them fall) while witnessing one of the finest examples of human goodness.
But here’s the thing: the show was also funny! And so while borderline crying for most of the performance, we also were laughing constantly. The actors were hilarious, and made what could be such an overwhelming subject into a lighthearted reflection of those days.
And this is what I thought embodied the true spirit of the people of Gander. They could have come up with dozens of reasons why they shouldn’t invite complete strangers, many of whom didn’t speak English, into their homes, or why they shouldn’t spend four sleepless nights tending not just to people’s physical needs but also to their spiritual pain, fear and uncertainty. But they didn’t. And when they decided to help, it would have been easy to become burdened with the sheer amount of work that needed to be done for thousands of people. But instead the people of Gander found joy where they could, sought the good in each other and in their visitors, and brought humor and cheer wherever they could.
After the performance the actors and actresses graciously greeted those waiting outside the stage door, which I love seeing. And in person they were just as warm as their onstage personas.
I was blown away by this production. It’s not your typical Broadway musical, there are no big dance numbers and you won’t be singing the songs after you leave. But it is powerful and tells a story that will stay with you, I believe, for the rest of your life.
Nick loved it too and said that Come From Away was one of the best performances that he’s ever seen. And he wanted me to make it known that he’s seen at least 50 shows, so he’s pretty much an expert, right Nick?
You can get tickets for Come From Away here. Go on, get them now. This is a story that you don’t want to miss!
And to make sure you see it I’m doing a giveaway! If you’d like to score two free tickets follow me on Facebook and send me a message letting me know why you want to see the show.
September 11th is a day that we will always remember for its violence and its evil. But shining through this grief is Gander’s profound example of humanity at its finest.
And you should absolutely witness it.