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HomeOpinionThe Postscript: "Accidental Visitors"

The Postscript: “Accidental Visitors”

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Last night, my husband, Peter, and I went to see the play “Come From Away.” I read about it last year, waited for the day tickets were available, and bought the very best cheap seats I could buy.
I love going to the theater more than almost anything, so you might be surprised to learn my husband is not much of a theatergoer. I’ve learned, over the years, if I ask him months in advance, he imagines the date will never come and agrees to go with me—and that’s what he did when I asked him last December about this show. The show came to town last night. Peter is a good sport.
The cheap seats were very close to the front, but way to the side, so I could see around the edges of the stage—which I don’t mind a bit. I like seeing the actors just as they make their entrance. I like the reminder that there is a world right behind the curtains.
The play is the story of how, on 9/11, 7,000 airline passengers were diverted to an island off the coast of Newfoundland. Years earlier, before planes could fly all the way across the Atlantic, they used to stop and refuel in Gander, Newfoundland. The longer range of the jets made the oversized airport on the small island obsolete, and there had been talk of demolishing it. But it was still there on Sept. 11, 2001, so it became the most logical place to reroute thousands of passengers when no one knew how long it would be before it was safe to fly again.
And the people of Gander—about 2,000 of them—stepped up to host all these accidental visitors.
They cooked and provided new clothes. They invited these strangers into their houses and bought them drinks. They organized a barbecue, and even urged their guests to become honorary Newfoundlanders. These stranded flyers from all over the world never forgot the compassion of this small town during this terrible, difficult time. Ten years later, many of them returned to visit their adopted family in Gander. Scholarships were set up. Lifetime friendships were made.
I think we need more stories like this. Fred Rogers said, when talking to children about disasters, “Look for the helpers.” Gander and the surrounding communities became helpers to these strangers—who were not always gracious or grateful or even aware of how much help they needed or how profoundly they had upset the quiet life of this tiny town.
At the end of the show, the audience stood up in unison. Standing ovations are a peculiar thing. Some people will stand for everything. Most people will be embarrassed into joining them. Rarely does everyone just get on their feet all together, and yet that was what happened last night.
There were a lot of people in the theater, so perhaps it is presumptuous for me to say, but I have to believe we were all, in some way, thinking how much we need that spirit of coming together and helping one another and supporting each other even if—especially if—the folks we are supporting are strangers to us.
I thought about what a great idea it was to write a play about a town that was helpful. It was such a simple idea, yet so absolutely right.
“Aren’t you glad we went?” I asked Peter on the way out. He said he was. He said it might be the best play he had ever seen, which—coming from Peter—meant a lot.

Till next time,

Carrie Classon

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