Photo my Caitlin Warbelow, Fiddler for Come From Away and Photographer
*for some reason, this has sat since March as a draft. I think, because it needed to be shared now.
I’ve learned with age and experience that the small things one does for others come back when needed, but tenfold. Sometimes, we also benefit by association and that is my experience currently.
This post is a Newfoundlander in New York experience with lots of amazing twists.
On September 11, 2001 I was one of a few hundred teachers in a dozen schools and colleges in a half dozen Newfoundland communities who did exactly what we’d been raised to do.
We stepped up.
We took care, with our neighbours and friends, of passengers grounded in Gander, Newfoundland, when air space was closed due to the terrorism happening in the United States.
6800 passengers arrived in our community of just over 9000.
Kindergarten to Grade 6 school, Gander Academy welcomed four flights with approximately 770 passengers from all over the world. As a volunteer in my work place I assisted with communication between airlines and passengers by keeping a communication board for each flight. I helped with others on phone banks to assist overseas operators. I cried with my vice principal, Roger Melendy when we emptied a donation box and saw denominations of money from several continents. We were overwhelmed that people had felt the need to thank the school with everything from loose change to personal cheques for amounts as high as a thousand dollars.
16 years later, I can see Broadway out my window and I’m again overwhelmed and mostly in tears. (this post was started in March)
Six years ago, Irene Sankoff and David Hein came to Gander and neighbouring communities of Glenwood, Appleton, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Gambo to ask some questions. The month of interviews and visits became the research used to create a 40 minute musical play for theater students at Sheridan College, Toronto.
One thing (hard work and their amazing talents) lead to another (Come From Away just opened on Broadway).
And here I am, one of a dozen people represented by name as a character or composite character in a Broadway musical and a VIP walking red carpets and mingling at cocktail parties across the road from Carnagie Hall.
This has been a whirlwind and my purpose here is twofold; to share with family and friends and followers this once in a lifetime experience and to sincerely thank, as best I can, the people who have provided the invitations.
On Thursday a delegation from Gander was flown to New York City where we were welcomed by Sonia and Joe, Docents from the 911 Tribute Center. We all met this amazing husband and wife team when they visited Gander in September 2016.
Leo came home telling me about the New York City Police officer he met and talked and talked about how nice he was. I’d met them too at Gander Academy and then we realized we had connected with a husband and wife. We joined them for a ceremony of remembrance on September 11th, their first time out of New York City on that date since the attacks.
We had no idea they would be meeting us at the airport and they waited hours for our delayed flight. We were crying already. You’ll understand later why seeing them was so beautiful.
At our hotel we were greeted by Jeanette, a 911 survivor who also traveled on the Tribute Tour to Gander. She left work to meet us as we got out of the cab. We were feeling the love already!
Due to our delay, our late lunch became a supper with the other Come From Away guests and the writers and Junkyard Dog producers. These people all feel like family. Hugs and laughter ensued as guests were intoduced by their CFAs to the other CFAs.
The element of family was further increased as cast members introduced their parents or siblings or spouses to us and those family members acknowledged us as they might acknowledge folks they knew through regular conversations about us.
We spent a couple of hours in each other’s company and then due to a Broadway show our hosts slipped out and we gradually found our way back to our hotel for a rest after a 3 a.m. rise.
On the walk back, we did go past the theater when it was quiet and had this picture taken by a random stranger who cried with us when we told him about our 9/11 experience and then he invited us to his house for supper the next night. I politely told him it wasn’t necessary and 10 minutes later, regretted it. I know that would have been a beautiful experience. A missed opportunity because I didn’t want to put someone out.
On Friday morning we were met bright and early by Natalie from Junkyard Dog Productions. With an accompanying documentary film crew. we took the Subway to the 911 Memorial where we were booked for interviews for Storycorps.
Storycorps is a project to record oral history. We were asked to tell our 9/11 stories. I will do this when I return to New York next month but the other Ganderites told their stories during the morning.
Leo and I had some down time and toured the area before coming back for group photos and a guided tour arranged especially for us. I can’t write about this and do justice to the emotions of hearing about the attacks from a family member of a victim. I am grateful and honored to have been given the opportunity to tour with friends because we comforted each other through this emotional event.
I’ve learned that not everyone finds it respectful to take pictures in these locations with the rage of ‘selfies’ but I hope these few images encourage you to visit this place and pay your respects to the victims and their families and friends.
We were also met by Maureen Basnicki, Canadian 911 widow. Her husband Kenneth Basnicki was working in NYC on the day of the attack. She visits the museum often and told us that although there are thousands of images of missing people posters she always sees her husband’s image when she visits and immediately, his image appeared as a slide in a huge collection of electronic images. She assured us it happens every time and I’m a believer. When we went out to see his name on the memorial wall a rainbow appeared on what had been a snowy day when we started out. Maureen takes this as signs of his presence and smiles while we were all falling apart with the emotion of this place.
As it’s founder, Maureen is very active in the promotion of a National Day of Service on September 11 as a positive observance of the huge loss experienced by so many.
A quiet evening of walking and a great meal had us settling after an emotional second day.
Back-to-back cocktail parties was the Saturday plan. When in Rome…..
Some of our group were meeting with Tom Brokaw for a filming of an NBC Today Show segment. Mr. Brokaw did a report called Operation Yellow Ribbon and this was his follow up to that broadcast. He’d seen Come From Away a week or so before.
Our media duties were either individual or group interviews and we spent many hours wearing microphones as we went about our conversations and tours. There were at least two film crews at some locations and multiple media sources at the Red Carpet events. They told me a bit late about the Red Carpet being broadcast live. I always count on editors to improve my behavior. Lesson learned!
Our first party was a book launch for Channel of Peace by Kevin Tuerff. Joined by a group of people arriving straight from the Come From Away matinee, we visited and discussed the musical, Kevin’s Pay it Forward movement and his new book. Everyone was very excited as they had just come from the matinee performance of Come from Away.
As a member of the Gander Refugee Outreach committee I am especially interested in this book selling well. Twenty five percent of profits will be donated to GRO as Kevin’s way of recognizing continued generosity in our community.
Our second event was the investor’s party at the fabulous Redeye Grill. I can’t pretend to understand the process but I do realize that producers collect investors to fund the creation of a show. The guests at the party were some of the individuals that invested a rumored twelve million dollars to put this show on Broadway.
The investors we met were from all over; Boston, NYC, Texas and California were among the places named. Some had traveled to see the concert in Gander and other venues. Others would be seeing the musical for the first time this weekend. All were excited to meet us and intent on asking questions about 9/11 in Gander and about Newfoundland in general.
Their biggest interest was in hearing us assure them that what they saw, or would see, on stage was true.
As someone who assisted during four days of passengers at Gander Academy, I had witnessed most of what is portrayed on stage. Some of the dialogue is conversations I actually had. There is no doubt it happened and no doubt it is accurately represented.
A few conversations are moved from one character to another or a couple of people’s stories are portrayed as one person like the Beulah Davis character that is my work location as a teacher at Gander Academy but the personal story between Hannah and the character is Beulah Cooper’s experience with her friends, met at the Royal Canadian Legion in Gander. Beulah took Hannah and her husband home and also filled 3 more bedrooms with come from aways. The events are all true and respectful of both passengers and residents. Thank you David Hein and Irene Carl Sankoff. We are honored that you listened so well.
The investor’s party was great!
Playing on the musical’s theme there were fish and seafood dishes with beef tenderloin and cheesecake options and Screech as well as cocktails. We quickly were welcomed into conversations and became the center of attraction in small groups.
A girl could get used to this!
Sunday was a day of interviews again. Did I mention there’ll be a documentary eventually? We were interviewed in small groups at our hotel. We also had the film crew escort us to the Red Carpet.
Red Carpet Live was a surprise because as you can see 18:30 minutes in to this, I didn’t know I was being interviewed live. (click on Red Carpet Live to view)
This is our second time doing this, having been invited to the opening at Mirvish’s Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, but Broadway is all bigger. Several media outlets were broadcasting live on the internet. Finally we were seated for the show!
It was all bigger and brighter and my emotions were too. It is really an amazing production and the cast is outstanding. Critics say it too and it was proven during award season.
After the performance we were rushed back stage and met by the actor who portrays us and we all did a curtain call together. It’s am amazing rush to have the crowd on their feet when you walk across a stage.
I can see why people strive their whole life to do this.
We were whisked off stage and on to a waiting bus where Leo and the rest of our guests were waiting and taken to the after party.
If you want to surprise Newfoundlanders with a Newfoundland band, don’t check them into the same hotel. Some of our crowd had seen Shannygonnock check in and I touched base with accordion player Mark Hiscock by fb to see if they’d seen the show. They had indeed.
Lucky for us, the secret band was really a surprise for playwright David Hein as they are his favorite band and ours too. Gander and Appleton occupied the dance floor all night and a good time was had by all.
Our adventures were far from over. Our Docent friends from the 911 Tribute Museum had arranged a personal tour of their Tribute Centre (since relocated and opened at the 911 Tribute Museum).
Here, they told us their stories. They told us where they were and what they did and how the have managed to go forward, one day after another in spite of the tragedy they have lived and the illnesses that attack their bodies. They told us of the horrors of that day and the days after and of this day, when they get notifications of colleagues and friends dying of 9/11 cancers and other related diseases.
The pain in the first responder community is deep and spreads to families and communities but they told us something else too.
Last year, 2016, these beautiful, hurting people left New York City for the first time on September 11 and spend time in Gander.
Learning about the stories in Gander from 9/11 and then later, seeing the musical Come From Away, my friends have seen that it was not all hateful on that day. There were people helping, being human, being loving and stepping up. They have told me that seeing the musical and being here has helped them in their healing and however slight, I’m grateful for that.
September 11 is a National Day of Service. It’s a day designated to do something good for others for no personal benefit. It’s a day to honor the victims of terrible murders of 9/11 by showing love, rather than hate. It’s a day to honor the first responders, who continue to suffer, by showing love. It’s a day to improve your immediate community in any way you can in hopefully, impact the larger world around you.
Come from Away is a one act play where Gander welcomes the world.
This post is dedicated to my mom and Joe, who share September 11 as a birthday. Mom does not remember it, and Joe can not forget. I love them both.