Amidst the grief and pain being remembered ten years on, something a little different from Gander, Newfoundland - a celebration of friendships and hospitality.
‘Plane people’ return to Gander, Newfoundland to remember 9/11 hospitalityhttp://www.canada.co...l#ixzz1XhJgCAE8
On a day of dark memories and sombre prayers, the people of central Newfoundland chose to celebrate instead.
They did so not because of 9/11, but to remember the friendship and humanity that emerged here in the midst of such horror and fear.
A decade ago, as the world was reeling in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the people of this quiet airport town and its surrounding rural villages poured out comfort, kindness and hospitality for nearly 7,000 passengers who were stranded when their trans-Atlantic aircraft were forced to land following the closure of U.S. airspace.
Thousands more were stranded elsewhere across Canada, from Vancouver to Toronto to Halifax.
But in the tiny communities around Gander, without large emergency resources at their disposal, local residents came to the rescue instead, opening their homes, hearts and kitchens and volunteering their time to make the crowds of anxious “plane people” feel welcome and comfortable.
Brian Candow, a Gander priest who officiated Sunday at a poignant but joyful ceremony to remember this province’s extraordinary role in 9/11, summed up the conflicted way many Newfoundlanders feel about that time.
“We are awkwardly proud of what we did that day, and we hope sincerely never to have to do it again,” he said.
“Here in Gander and surrounding areas, we were God-given an opportunity to do something other than simply watch (the tragedy in New York and Washington),” Candow said.
“When the world came to Gander that day, we were given the privilege of doing what we believe all people are put on Earth to do — love one’s neighbour as oneself.”
All weekend people celebrated here: at 9/11 concerts, and at community breakfasts, where platefuls of cooked beans and bologna, a Newfoundland staple, were served to happy crowds by dozens of American and European visitors — former plane people who had returned for the 10th anniversary to repay the kindness of their one-time hosts.
Among the returning visitors was Monica Burke, an emergency telephone operator from Seattle, who was flying home from Ireland on 9/11, and was given shelter in the Gander home of Beulah Cooper. Over the past 10 years, the two have formed a lasting friendship.
“I came back for the anniversary because I wanted to let Beulah and others here know that people like me remember what you did. And maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal, but some of us do.
“It’s kind of a weird dichotomy that’s existed since 9/11. I know all these horrible things happened, and lots of people died and my country was attacked. But the truth is, I did meet Beulah. I did end up in a place where I was taken care of and I was shown comfort and love. So something horrible happened, but here, there was almost like a bubble that protected us, and insulated us.”
Says Cooper: “For us this is a happy occasion. We don’t forget the tragedy, of course. But we were on the helping side. Monica and others I met from that time, they were strangers 10 years ago, and now they’re friends for life.”
Nick and Diane Marson, of Houston, also returned to Gander for the anniversary this weekend. Nick, an Englishman, and Diane, a Texan, were stranded passengers who met each other at a community shelter in the nearby village of Gambo, N.L. They hit it off, got married, and honeymooned in Gambo in 2002.
“We felt like it was important to come back this year and reconnect with people,” said Diane on Sunday. “We wanted to see our friends in Gambo, but we also wanted to say thank you to all the people of this area for what they did for us 10 years ago.”
Many of those who helped the plane people on 9/11 are embarrassed by all the attention and thanks. Gander’s longtime Mayor Claude Elliott, said he felt undeserving going to Washington last week to receive an award for his town’s role in 9/11.
After all, no one in Gander had suffered the way the actual victims had.
“I wondered why I was there at the ceremony,” he said, “But then some of the families of the victims came up to me afterwards, to thank me for what we had done.
“The truth is, we don’t need thanks. The smiles on the faces of the passengers as they left Gander 10 years ago, was all the thanks we needed.”
Still, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, who attended Sunday’s ceremony, heaped thanks and praise on Newfoundland, and on all of Canada.
“At a time of grave anxiety and confusion, neither the government of Canada, nor the people of Canada, could know for certain whether they were inviting onto their soil a plane that might be used as a weapon, a plane with terrorists on board.
“But you did not flinch. You took the planes, you took the risk, you welcomed all. The same was true across Canada, where scores of aircraft took refuge in cities large and small.
Jacobson had special final words for the people of this area.
“On a day when some tried to strike a blow at the very core of what it means to be human, you affirmed with grace, compassion and good humour, our faith in the goodness of people. You were the best of us.
“Ten years ago the world thrust greatness upon the people of this remarkable corner of Canada. And for that the people of the United States are eternally grateful.”