Twenty years ago, the September 11 terrorist attacks diverted 38 flights to Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Aircraft instruments, air traffic controllers, and pilots guided the planes to land at the quiet airport that had been threatened with closure. As the town of 7,000 swelled to twice its population, a more critical navigational aid guided the locals and the planes’ passengers to a new place of compassion and trust in the innate goodness of the human family. The navigational instrument was the internal compass found in the hearts and souls of the good people of Gander and surrounding communities who offered a hero’s welcome to the stranded travelers.
These frightened travelers from European flights were fed, housed, clothed, and even invited to kiss a cod and be screeched in as honorary Newfoundland citizens. Their stories have been immortalized in a book and a musical.
Now, let me share my own involvement in this significant 20-year anniversary of 9/11. I was invited to serve on a local committee to commemorate the event as part of the National Day of Service. We gathered input, planned local service projects, invited community members of all religious and political persuasions to participate, and used a variety of media to get the word out. It was a short turnaround from conception to reality and I confess I was caught up in the details of my specific assignments.
On Saturday, September 11, we were delightedly surprised with the hundreds of neighbors who stepped up to volunteer despite the rain. One local woman had gathered 50 quilts and 35 hats to distribute to those in need. Some found people in their own neighborhoods who needed a hand. All were encouraged to find any way to serve anyone.
Later that night, we decided to watch Coming Together, a broadcast commemorating this sacred anniversary. As we did, my internal compass let me know that I had missed the real significance of what we were commemorating. The production took me back to my personal memories and journal entries and renewed the experiences and feelings I had 20 years ago. While not as unique and huge as the response in Gander, individual citizens here and across the world stepped forward to offer hope and help.
Again, this succor came as individuals followed their own internal compasses, set aside selfishness and prejudice, and simply offered sympathy, love, and action. My journal reminded me of the local scout troops displaying flags along busy streets in my area, people standing in line to donate blood, first responders refusing to take breaks, companies donating equipment and airtime to help the rescue efforts, and leaders unashamedly pleading, “God bless America!” In general, this tragic event led us to be united and to turn to heaven for help and healing. In the midst of a crisis, we found peace and membership in the global family of man.
My thoughts turned to the worldwide pandemic and political polarization we now face. I fear our responses are far different from those on 9/11. My internal compass tells me that turning to God and loving, supporting, and helping one another is also the way to find solutions at this difficult time. As we do, we will also be guided to a harbor of safety and peace.
The Newfoundlanders call visitors, including those welcomed passengers, come from aways. I suppose we have such come from aways in our nation, neighborhoods, and even families who come from a different point of view or persuasion. May we be like the good people of Gander and follow our best impulses to love, serve, and invite into our lives any who come from a different place.