Sunday, October 30, 2016
In a world where horror is often the predominant televised experience, where humans commit atrocities against humans for the flimsiest of excuses-a different religion, appearance, gender, sexual orientation, passion, revenge and general hate--and for this continent, our shared experience of on September eleventh 2001--it's easy to lose hope. Horror can only be overshadowed by an extreme outpouring of bravery and compassion.
"Look for the helpers," I've read and that's where you find the means to pull yourself up out of the depths of despair for humanity and find hope. The heroes, the regular people doing what they can for a traumatized people.
On September 11, 2001, Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, along with multiple communities in the region gave refuge to thousands of people from all over the world when American airspace shut down and a large number of planes were forced to land there.
Come From Away, a musical performance, seeks to tell the story of those days when "The Plane People" were here, awaiting permission to return home.
It succeeds by every measure.
From the first note it is a celebration of who we--Newfoundlanders--are as a people. Set to Newfoundland inspired music, the tales are spun, the poignant stories extracted from the true stories, merged but somehow made bigger while being condensed. These are nobody's stories and everybody's stories. The plane people shared theirs, the surrounding residents told of their experiences and they set the entire damned thing to music. And it's brilliant.
There is love, hate, fear, anger, racism, homophobia, feminism and a dogged determination on behalf of the locals to just fix this, to make it better, to ensure that all are taken care of, both human and animal.
It is such a fascinating thing to see your people through the eyes of others.
It is eye-opening to note that what to you is perfectly normal, is in fact perfectly remarkable.
"Go steal everybody's grill," the mayor of Appleton advises one CFA (Come From Away) when they decide to cook up the excess food and have a community gathering in Gander for residents and plane people. "They're gonna shoot me," he thinks. But of course, if you need all the barbecues in the town to use for a big town event, what community of Newfoundland wouldn't offer theirs up to whoever came knocking on the door? None. Ours in on the back porch...we'd help load it on the truck. That's what you do. Here. It's Normal.
Apparently that's not normal in the big world and as such, normal is probably not something we should strive for. There is nothing wrong with us. There is something wrong with "normal."
Normal is taking the plane people for a drink at the legion or a stop at the Tim Horton's or giving the RCMP the go ahead to clear the shelves of the Shoppers Drug Mart of whatever is needed in a state of emergency. You know, ordinary things. In other places you hear of looting during a State of Emergency, in Gander there was permission to loot.
I recall asking my daughter a few weeks into her new school here in Lewisporte about how it was going and what noticeable differences she had discovered between this school and her previous, fantastic school, in Ontario.
"Well," she said, "in that school, if I need a pencil and I told the teacher, somebody in my class would offer me a pencil. Here, if I needed a pencil, everybody would offer me a pencil."
And indeed I've seen it for myself. When the Syrian crisis was at the forefront of the news and the government committed to bringing twenty five thousand people to Canada, this region offered to take ten families. They're all not here yet but some are. And some of those new Canadians were at the show last night. They enjoyed it very much and feel very proud to be new Newfoundlanders.
We, in this province, have a family dynamic going on. We row among ourselves, get right upstrapless at times, but when the chips are down we stick together, we celebrate together and we dare anyone come out against one of us because we'll all have that person's back. Loudly and soundly. We are family, a great big loving, giving, passionate family.
And we will pull together for the common good, every single person offering for everything they require. Put out a call and you will receive, if somebody is in need. Whether it be a pencil or seven thousand beds, they'll be provided immediately.
And the show? Well I started weeping around the time they hit the second note. I started stomping my feet at the first. I laughed, cried, was shocked, was proud (over and over and over) and as the energy in the room built, the energy on stage grew. I probably wept most at the celebration of the social issues that were covered and was delighted that the entire place erupted in joy or sadness at those junctures as well. I probably laughed loudest at the line, "Hi, I'm your Walmart greeter, would you like to come to my house for a shower?"
I walked out feeling blessed and grateful and thoroughly entertained. Blessed to be here. Grateful for all who brought the show to us and thoroughly entertained because that was a rock solid, energetic and absolutely incredible performance.
And after a run in Toronto, it's going to Broadway in February.
Broadway is lucky to have them.