By Curt Budden
The day started off prosperous with blue skies and sun. On the 11th day of September in 2001. There were school classes, day shifts and children at play. Nobody was ready for what would happen that day. The great state of New York would soon change forever. The whole world watched it unfold and they all cried together. The World Trade Centers fell from harsh evil attacks. New York’s finest responded with no time to relax. The events shook our souls and chilled the blood in our veins. For the people now lost forever in those buildings and planes.
But along with those who had died, there was another great fear. Regarding the still active aircraft which were up in the air. They had to leave airspace quickly, no matter the route they had planned. And that’s when a small town changed forever, known as Gander, Newfoundland; for it had an old airport that was built years ago. Many people had passed through and planes would come and then go. But on September 11, and with sparse information, this quaint little airport became a hub destination.
Plane after plane Gander’s airport did bring. The taxiway got so crowded, planes nearly touched wing to wing. The adrenaline was spiking and all emotions had swirled, for there were aircraft and faces from all over the world. Even though stress was quite heavy, hearts were light as a feather. Because all the people of Gander had to now come together. One fact of Newfoundland’s history, or any story or tale, it’s that when tragedy strikes Newfoundland will prevail. Once the planes had all landed there was much work to do. With passengers grounded for hours and stuck there like glue. There were many passengers frightened and full of aggression. Nobody told them what happened or answered one single question.
When folks finally deplaned they could now stretch and stand. Then they learned of this place which was called “Newfoundland.” Volunteers scrambled and struggled as they sprinted and hurled. They had to draw arrows towards Newfoundland on a map of the world. For these new guests were so anxious the events came in a blur. They had to look at the map to see where they were. And to be sure it was blatant, and to make sure it was clear, they wrote three words by the arrows which read “You Are Here.” There were great language barriers in both writing and speech. But all folks still received help as far as Gander could reach.
Although the terror was strong, the Gander spirit was stronger. All passengers were frantic, but not for much longer. All who helped had to struggle, but their intentions were sound. Passengers all had to learn that they were now on safe ground. No matter how much sleep they had missed, no matter how long they had stood, the people of Gander helped everyone in any way that they could. They prepared countless meals, and they reeled out miles of cables. They opened the doors to their homes, and they pulled out the chairs from their tables. Every counter had food, and every floor had a cot. Every kettle had water, and every burner a pot. The workload pushed their efforts far beyond any ridge. Folks even transformed the town’s ice rink into a large walk-in fridge. They would turn a frown to smile, or at least get exhausted from trying. There was always someone to talk to. There was always a shoulder for crying.
They hooked up phones to call loved ones, and they provided clean clothes. They made strangers their friends, for long gone were the foes. They threw birthday parties for children, and took out tours for a glance. They provided music and singing, to share laughter and dance. The whole town was united to do all that they could. They took the focus off evil and shined light on the good. How many tears did they shed? How many words came out stuttered? How much coffee did they perk? How much toast had they buttered? How much bedding had they laid out? How much tea did they steep? How many handshakes and hugs came when emotions ran deep?
In every nook there were gatherings, and every cranny was a perch. They used the school and the Legion, and even the church. Every resource was helpful with stealth employed as they used it. Local businesses gave what they could and nobody abused it. There was no time to argue or to be a debater. If something was needed, they would immediately cater. Countless tasks took place with a wide range of criteria. Carried out by Gander’s fine people and those in the Lewisporte area. Many hearts may have sunk and many spirits did bend. But to those who had showed up as a stranger would soon leave as a friend.
The volunteers would stay busy well into the night. There was always somebody to comfort and tell “You’ll be alright.” If there was unbearable stress, or if the horizon showed trouble? The town’s efforts would amplify and their output would double. The town’s motivation was far tougher than granite, to help thousands of people from all over the planet. They used countless methods and they used countless ways. And when it was all said and done, their story lasted five days.
Their help came without contracts. Their help came without price. The help came from good people who were humble and nice. The whole town stuck together, with not one person alone. They literally took their community and turned it into a home. This tragic event may have happened on that day in September. And it’s one the people of Gander will surely remember. But not because of the terrorists or those buildings that fell, but because of the people they nurtured and their story they’d tell. They would always honour the fallen and monuments would be laid. They’d also remember the strangers they helped, and the new friends they had made.
So many stories were born, with countless memories to keep. And those who helped were so tired, they were too exhausted to sleep. For life can change rather quickly, and on the turn of a dime. But good must always take precedent, as well as endure every time. Thousands of strangers had landed with the unknown to expect. Each one was shown hospitality, grace and respect. And if there was one thing they had learned besides the great gift of living, it’s that Newfoundlanders are heartfelt, good natured and giving. They brought about positivity and removed all the glooms. With their bodies so tired, they were running on fumes.
When it came time to leave, a part of them wanted to stay. And many relationships prosper up to this very day. Gander had helped many people no matter where they did roam. But the day finally came when all the strangers went home. It was sad when they left, and no one could deny it. The Town of Gander seemed different, as well as eerily quiet. You could hear a pin drop in the distance. You could hear every last hush. There was no more hustle and bustle, and long gone was the rush.
It was then that they realized the hearts they did touch. The act of helping out strangers had just meant so much. Between all of the tears shed and all of the work-driven sweat. It’s an event that the whole town will never forget. One point which was proven, and came right from the start, was that Gander’s a small town but it has a big heart. The town’s hospitality had come in great fashion. It was fuelled by emotions, empathy and strong passion. Because regardless of terror they still came out victorious. These strangers showed up as grounded, but they departed as glorious.