YOU ARE HERE: A COME FROM AWAY STORY (2018)
Directed by Moze Mossanen
Starring Beverly Bass, Reg Batson, Beulah Cooper
COME FROM AWAY (2021)
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Starring Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Tony LePage
9/11. Two numbers that will be forever linked, representing one of the biggest tragedies our country has ever seen. But, as in any tragedy, there was also opportunity for hope, love, and caring to show itself.
I discovered this movie (and the musical “Come From Away” based on the events) quite randomly a couple of years back. Any of my friends can tell you I have “seasonal” movies I like to watch, and I’m talking WAY beyond Christmas and Halloween movies. I have July 4th movies, Easter movies, St Patrick’s Day movies, etc. This movie was made it to my 9/11 rotation, which contains certain movies and documentaries that, to me, aren’t meant to celebrate 9/11, but memorialize it and everything that happened that day (and the days that followed). I think it’s so important to remember the stories that brought hope on such a terrible day. Those too are also events that we should “never forget”. “You Are Here” is one such story of hope, generosity, hospitality, and community, all given when the need was at its greatest. In the words of Claude Elliott, mayor of Gander, “Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what was found.”
SPOILERS FOR “YOU ARE HERE” FOLLOW
“You Are Here: A Come From Away Story” is a documentary that takes place in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, the easternmost point of North America. On 9/11, when terrorists attacked New York, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the Federal Aviation Administration, in an unprecedented move, grounded all air traffic. With many planes having nowhere to go, they were diverted anywhere they could land safely. Gander, the furthest northeastern point in North America, received 38 airliners (some international flights on their way to the US) carrying almost 7000 passengers, many of whom didn’t know about the terrorist attacks or any knowledge of what was happening at all. For five days, the small community of 9000 played host to these refugees, also known as “Come-from-aways” to the locals. They fed, clothed, and housed everyone, but also entertained and embraced them, comforting the frightened passengers and making them feel more at home by showing incredible kindness and compassion to all. The documentary features several stories of both the displaced passengers and the Gander community.
WHAT DID GOD SHOW ME?
-The amount of love and compassion that is displayed in this movie moved me deeply. The Gander community poured out so much love on the passengers stranded there it boggles the mind. Government agencies like FEMA and Red Cross are great at passing out food and clothing and “here’s a cot, have a nice sleep”, but the Gander’s community went so above and beyond…it’s such a testimony to the genuine hearts of the people there. You have to remember that everyone in Gander was reeling from the attacks just like everyone else in the world, but they knew that the best way to fight against hate, anger, and fear was to reach out to those around you.
Check out some examples of the people of Gander’s love below!
-After spending over 24 hours on the tarmac due to security reasons, passengers were welcomed off the planes by the Gander community. Many passengers had didn’t know where they even had landed, so a helpful resident placed a sign on a large map of the world with an arrow pointing to Gander, saying “You Are Here!”
-Local school bus drivers who had been on strike left the picket line to volunteer their time and buses because they judged the passengers’ needs as greater than their own personal battles. Passengers were housed not only in gyms, schools, and rec centers, but in various locals’ homes and guest rooms.
-Local Walmarts and other shops donated clothes, underwear, toiletries, sleeping bags, food, and other personal items. A local dentist donated cases of toothbrushes and toothpaste. When the Gander Academy (which was housing 700 people) asked on-air for some extra toilet paper, after six hours they had to tell people to stop bringing toilet paper, because they had collected a year’s worth!
-In order to meet special dietary needs such as vegetarian and kosher meals, the local surrounding towns freighted in fruits, vegetables, and other frozen goods which were stored on the ice at the local hockey rink. (In the ultimate Canadian sacrifice, local hockey practices and games were canceled!) Any request, such as ones from curious visitors for local delicacies such as moose or rabbit, was immediately honored, usually in the twenty-pound range!
-Banks of phones and computers were set up at the town rec center and ran twenty-four hours a day to meet the needs of thousands of people wanting to connect with loved ones back home. It ran up a thirteen thousand dollar phone and internet bill, to which all offers of payment were refused.
-Many international passengers did not speak English. A local pastor was housing a Russian family at his church, who were understandably very distraught and scared, until the pastor hit upon the idea of using his Bible to translate for them. Noticing the Russian family’s Bible, he looked up and showed them Philippian 4:6 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”, which greatly soothed them. In a line from the musical, “And that’s how we started speaking the same language.”
-Gander veterinarians and animal shelters arrived on the airfield and with the help of local ground crews, removed cats, dogs, and other animals from the cargo bays of the planes, keeping them in a large hangar in order to feed them and keep their cages clean while their owners could not care for them due to increased security. These included some rare monkeys bound for a zoo in the States.
-The people of Gander were determined to not only meet the passengers’ physical needs, but their mental and emotional needs as well, with music, entertainment, birthday parties, and local tours. A couple of local hunters took a Narobian passenger on a moose hunt with them. One plane had held a large number of “Make a Wish” kids and was originally bound for Florida and a trip to Walt Disney World. The residents of Gander, eager to make up for the children’s loss, held a large party with cake and music, clowns and costumed entertainers, including the town’s mascot “Commander Gander”. One father, whose daughter had terminal cancer, reported that his daughter was so happy and had enjoyed herself so much she didn’t care about missing out on Disney World.
-When the airspace was finally opened, many passengers didn’t want to leave! One passenger stated “We weren’t treated like refugees or an imposition…we were treated like honored, invited guests that had been expected and looked forward to.”
-All money that was offered to local residents as payment for food, services, etc was refused with a friendly, “No, no, thanks. Anything for a friend.” or, “You’d have done the same for me.” Several days after the passengers had departed, money of all currencies and denominations was found stuffed in the town hall’s suggestion box, eventually totaling over $60,000. The proceeds were used to build a “peace park” in honor of 9/11, which now houses a steel beam from the World Trade Center. Many of the passengers were there to honor the opening of the park on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
-A couple, Diane and Nick, met each other while stranded in Gander. They fell in love and were married shortly after, taking their honeymoon in Newfoundland. They were welcomed back to Gander as family, where the residents took it upon themselves to throw a giant celebration, including food, beverage, music, entertainment, wedding gifts, and a cake.
When “Come From Away” premiered on Broadway, many residents and passengers were invited as honored guests, and were able to meet the actors who portrayed them in the show. The musical broke all kinds of box office records, even during the pandemic, and was championed as a show that focused on hope in an otherwise dark day.
The world today can sometimes be a very turbulent one, not to mention a scary one. Wars, attacks, pandemics can all make us feel alone, isolated, and out of control. But as Mr. Rogers once wisely said, “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.’” A resident of Gander shared that “My opportunity to help other people came out of great tragedy.”
No one wants to deal with tragedies and “scary” situations…they suck! But as Christians we can use these times to show the love and the heart of Christ to those around us…to be a helper, no matter what that looks like. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a “big” thing. Like in my previous post on Evan Hansen, sometimes it can be as little as reaching out your hand, so people know they’re not alone.
When my mother died back in June, I had such dear friends who made themselves available to me for whatever I needed, coming to the hospital to visit me and my family, attending her wake/funeral, and letting me call and talk to them for hours. I couldn’t have stayed sane without them. What are some “helper” moments you remember from 9/11, or other tragic/intense situations you have dealt with? Drop ‘em in the comments and show your love for those people!