It happened sixteen years ago this week. The sky was falling, the fright was blinding. A sickening coordinated attack by humans on other humans. A sense that the world would never again be safe. Sounds like the least likely topic for a musical.
Yet playing eight times a week at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in NYC is a musical about 9/11. Throughout the show, we only view the traumatic events from the periphery, with just a few direct references to the horror that occurred. The new musical Come From Away tells the other 9/11 story, the true account of the 38 planes full of passengers that were stranded in a small airport in Gander, Newfoundland when all flights were grounded for safety during the early chaos of that event. This small enclave of quiet living suddenly expanded their population by almost double. What occurred there is the photo negative of the trauma caused that day. The people of Gander (or as they proudly call themselves in the title song, “Islanders”) came together to take care of the needs of an international mix of unexpected visitors, providing food, shelter, medical care, diapers. The townspeople gave more than these tangible tools of survival. They openly offered a welcoming spirit, a generosity gifted expecting nothing in return. There was healing and resilience baked into the bread and warm blankets that were handed to the thousands of diverted and disoriented people. There was meaning found in being there, together.
That open door extends all the way from Gander into the theater, from the actors on stage and into the audience. You talk to the strangers sitting next to you, share tissues, cry and laugh together. You watch a story of humans selflessly caring for other humans, the photo negative of the terrorism perpetrated. You leave the theater feeling a little bit healed and a touch more hopeful having not only watched the power of human connection on the stage but also having felt the power of human connection created in the audience. This interweaving cannot occur reading a book or watching a news story. This healing can only happen in congregation with other humans. Like the stranded passengers short stay in Gander, we as an audience experience just a brief visit to the theater, an ephemeral gathering that is restorative and vital precisely because it is fleeting and it is shared.
For help and resources, visit the National Institute of Mental Health or the American Psychological Association.