Each summer, as September approaches, I find myself remembering the morning of September 11, 2001. I was seeing a therapy client in my office on Washington Circle in Northwest DC. My office sat on one side of the circle, and GW Hospital sat directly across. I could easily see the hospital from my office window. Mid-session, the sound of continuous sirens barreled into our conversation with such force that my client and I looked outside together in joint confusion. We did not yet realize what was going on, but we shared a joint and unspoken understanding that we were witnessing something historic and traumatic.
This summer, I had the opportunity to purchase last minute tickets to see Come From Away at the Gerald Schoenfelt Theater on Broadway. This mesmerizing musical is set in the small Canadian town of Gander on Newfoundland Island. On the morning of September 11, 2001, all flights were grounded following the attacks and 38 planes were directed to land in Gander. The plot follows several true stories of passengers and crew while they remain grounded for several days in this strange new land. A pioneering female pilot, a gay couple, two strangers who fall in love, a mother frantically searching to reach her son worked for the NYC fire department, a rabbi, and a Muslim chef are among the traveling characters who the townspeople host to the best of their abilities.
Clothing is donated, meals are cooked, showers and homes are opened, spirits and songs are shared. Some travelers embrace the hospitality. Some push back against it. Others are too traumatized to engage either way. As a town of wholesome, hardy Canadians offer hospitality and empathy to a kaleidoscope of displaced and shocked travelers, Come From Away celebrates the human connection and the underlying reality that human similarities outweigh our differences. This is something I notice through the experience of working as a therapist, and it was pure joy (combined with many tears) to experience the theatrical perspective of this truth. At a time when trauma at our boarders and extreme political volatility shape the news cycle, it felt especially meaningful to experience this moving production about empathy, dignity, generosity and kindness.
Because I live in a place where one of the planes crashed on that tragic day, I have been too slow to study the simultaneous international experience of 9/11/2001. Come From Away is full of important, thoughtful perspective and is a worthwhile and memorable way to mark this memory.