I still remember the shocked feeling I had 16 years ago today when my English teacher wheeled in a television for my class to watch as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Centre. The feelings of confusion as to why someone would deliberately harm so many innocent people mixed with the sadness for all those who were killed.
Fast forward 16 years and I still sit here with those same feelings, but one now stands out above the rest – the feeling of what those flight crew members must have been thinking in those final minutes before their plane crashed. Becoming a flight attendant added another level to my feeling of loss surrounding September 11th.
Over the past year, I have been completely obsessed with the musical “Come From Away,” and especially with the character of Beverley Bass, the first female American Airlines captain in history. She was one of the pilots who found themselves landing in Gander, Newfoundland after the American airspace was closed following the attacks on September 11th, 2001. She sings about her love of aviation, working her way up as a female in a male-dominated profession, and how she felt that day learning that someone took the thing she loved most and turned it into a weapon:
“When suddenly someone on air to air traffic says
At 8:46 there’s been a terrorist action”
And the one thing I loved more than anything was used as the bomb
Suddenly I’m in a hotel
Suddenly something has died
Suddenly there’s something in between me and the sky”
Me and the Sky- Jen Colella, Come From Away (short version)
That feeling of having something you love being used in such a horrific way brings me to tears every time I listen to this song.
The musical is based on true accounts of the days that followed September 11th, when 38 planes bound for the United States were grounded in Gander, Newfoundland.
There is also a book, “The Day the World Came to Town- 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland”, that shares stories from passengers, crew and the townspeople who generously dropped everything and opened their doors to the “plane people” who arrived in their small town.
On a flight this summer, I found myself stopping in Gander. Looking out at the small airport, it was hard to imagine 38 planes and 6,595 passengers and crew members arriving here, in a town with around 10,000 living in it.
‘You are here at the start of a moment on the edge of the world where the river meets the sea. Here on the edge of the Atlantic on an island in between there and here’
In a time of terror around the world, these Newfoundlanders did everything they could to make their unexpected guests feel safe. Both the musical and the book share stories of love, compassion and the unselfish desire to help those in need.