Make me a channel of your peace:
Where there is hatred
Let me bring your love
Where there is injury
Your pardon, Lord
And where there’s doubt
True faith in you
(“Prayer,” Come From Away)
Live theater is pretty much our favorite thing to do in our house – and it’s not a cheap hobby, so generally theater tickets are “special occasion” type things. And, this year, Maddy’s big Christmas present came in the form of tickets to opening night of the national tour of Come From Away here in Louisville. I’d been wanting to see it for quite some time, and Maddy’s interest was piqued when her theater teacher at school had her freshman theater cohort study the show last fall.
Real quick: CFA is a musical adaptation of the story of Gander, Newfoundland, where many planes were diverted out of American airspace on 9/11. In short, this little island town of 9,000 people was, without warning, flooded with planes and people. People from all over the world. Many of whom did not speak English and had no idea what was happening. People who were terrified. People who could not get a hold of loved ones in the United States. People who were hungry and needed medicine and water and phones to call home. People who were suddenly stranded on a Canadian island for five days.
A Canadian island that turned itself inside out and upside down to care for the hundreds, thousands, even, of people who had suddenly landed in their community – “the day the world came to town,” they called it. Hundreds of local volunteers mobilizing to house and feed and otherwise care for completely traumatized strangers.
One Newfoundland man was shepherding a couple from an African country from their plane to shelter – the couple was terrified, and the man was searching for some way to assure them all was well. The couple had with them their copy of the Bible, and the man realized that even if their bible was in a different language it would still be numbered the same. He pointed to their bible, and then flipped through it until he found Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything….” He placed his finger on these words, and showed the couple–the only way he could tell them, “It’s ok. Don’t worry. You’re safe.” Philippians 4:6 is Philippians 4:6 in any country, and in any native tongue. “In that moment,” he said, “we began to speak the same language.”
Gander’s library was converted to quiet space for prayer – Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus all making space for the Holy in the face of their fear and pain.
A local SPCA volunteer searched the planes for animals, finding dogs and cats and even exotics stowed away. So she set about caring for them as best she could.
A rabbi who happened to be on one of the diverted flights coordinated kosher meals.
People pooled their backyard grills for a massive cookout. People bought up diapers and formula and tampons and water bottles and whatever else was needed from local merchants and took them to the “come from aways,” the strangers in their land, and said, “Here. Whatever you need.”
Y’all. There almost aren’t words for it. These people in this little town quite literally welcomed the world – and they did so with a level of hospitality and care that my faith would call nothing short of Christ-like. They sat with people in their grief and shock. They held babies and they held hands. They gave of themselves in the most sacrificial and beautiful ways. They made it possible for hundreds of stories to be told about that horrible day, stories that bear witness to the ways that 9/11 continues to shape our world as we now know it–for better and for worse.
Maddy understands 9/11 only as a historical event – but seeing this show together made space for her to ask me about my experiences that day. I told her where I was and what I did when I heard the news, and who I talked to that day, and what I remember about that time. We talked about the best of people on display everywhere–and we talked about the worst of people, too – how anyone remotely resembling Middle Eastern was suspect, and how when people are afraid they sometimes do and say things they normally wouldn’t.
CFA’s cast is small – only about 20 folks, and they all play multiple roles. And the music is all performed by a 6-8 person on-stage band – mandolins and guitars and an “ugly stick” – this delightful Canadian percussion instrument made from recycled household items like mop handles and tin cans and the like. As the last scene closes, the band takes center stage, breaking into the most glorious Irish-Canadian-bluegrass type music that I’m not sure anyone could listen to without jumping up and dancing. The Kentucky Performing Arts Center’s Whitney Hall can hold over 2300 patrons. It was pretty full opening night of CFA, and as that band took the stage, every person in the hall took to their feet, and within seconds all of us were clapping, right on beat with that ugly stick, joy just exploding throughout. Maddy said, “Mama! Everyone is clapping! Everyone is doing it!” “I know, baby,” I said, tears streaming down my face, “I know.”
In that moment, everyone in Whitney Hall in downtown Louisville was speaking the same language.
And I breathed a silent prayer of thanks that my daughter was witnessing a glimpse of grace–a snapshot of the very best of humanity. Such glimpses are, I believe, what makes hope possible.
Here’s the thing y’all–those people in Gander, they did a miraculous sort of thing. Loaves and fishes feeding the 5000 sort of stuff. But I can’t shake the simple truth of their miracle: they just did what needed to be done. And they did it because it was the right thing to do.
It was the right thing to do.
In the face of global terror, communal grief and trauma, and thousands of individual heartaches, the right thing to do was to offer food and drink and shelter and, even if but for a moment, the promise that “Right now, right here, you are safe. And you do not need to worry.”
The right thing to do– and they did it no matter language or skin color or political affiliation or socioeconomic label or gender or age or anything. They saw a need and they met the need. And, in doing so, offered up a master class in what it means to live up to what our God created us to be.
Y’all. We are, right now, in the United States, not worthy of Gander’s legacy. We are tribal and cruel and selfish. We are quick to blame, bereft of real kindness, anything but hospitable, and more focused on our next Insta-worthy moment than real relationship. We’re feeding what’s worst in us; meanwhile, our better angels, if we’ve even any left, are starving.
What I want for Maddy–and for your children and grandchildren, too–is Gander, Newfoundland.
I want the right thing to do.
No matter who you are. Or where you’ve been. Or what color your skin is. Or who you love. Or how much money you have. Or any other BS narrative we’ve created about who is worthy and who isn’t.
I want Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. Where all who had “come from away,” were called friend, and assured that they belonged.
Simply because it was– and is – the right thing to do.