By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
On September 11th, there are three stories which figure most prominently, the attack of the World Trade Towers in New York City, the attack on the Pentagon in Washington D. C., and the downing of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA. But for anyone who lived through that tragic day, we each have our own story. For myself, I shared the story of that day as a New Yorker for the first time in the post I wrote marking the twentieth anniversary of 9/11.
Having done that, I don’t know what more I have to say about a horrific day which changed the world, our nation, and my life. The superlatives for its tragedy and inhumanity having long been worn out, the immeasurable loss goes on. September 11th revealed and reminded us of the absolute worst that can be brought out in the human race. But the stories often overlooked and forgotten in all the sorrow and grief are that it brought out the very best in us. In a time of crisis, pain, and need, we came together – we untied.
In 2016, word started going around the theatre community about a “9/11 musical” with its eyes set on Broadway. The very idea of such a thing, in New York no less, left many bewildered, some horrified, and plenty who thought the producers had lost their minds. But when performances began at the Schoenfeld Theatre in February of 2017, the true story of humanity at its best after it had done its worst had audiences on their feet cheering and still does today.
“On 9/11, the world stopped. On 9/12, their stories moved us all.
Following the 9/11 attacks, 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, doubling the population of one small town on the edge of the world. Based on interviews with locals, Come From Away is about how hosting this international community of strangers spurred unexpected camaraderie in extraordinary circumstances.”
One of the most remarkable stories in this fact is stranger than fiction journey is of American Airlines’ first woman pilot, Beverly Bass who was the captain of one of the planes grounded in Gander.
Last month I saw Come From Away again when the outstanding Jenn Colella returned for six weeks and was reminded what an extraordinary musical it is. It stirs every emotion, brings laughter and pathos but most of all inspires us to have hope in each other. Due to Broadway’s COVID shutdown last year, Come From Away was sadly dark on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, but Apple TV+ made arrangements in advance to tape it live in performance in front of a select audience of 200. If you’re not near NYC or one of the stops on its national tour or you want to enjoy it all over again like I did, you can watch at home anytime on the streaming service.
Since the first anniversary, there has been talk of making September 11th a holiday, our National Day of Service. Every year it gets talked about, but in twenty-one years it has never gotten done. Reading names, hanging flags, tolling bells and lighting beacons are fine remembrances, but perhaps it’s time to also remember all those who rose to the occasion in the wake of that day. A town of 9,000 people on a rock in the middle of nowhere shared their lives with nearly 7,000 who had come from away. Forty-four people on a hijacked plane headed for D.C. gave up theirs to save the Capitol of democracy. What better or greater honor to all those who sacrificed and who served than for 9/11 to be a day of service to others, to the nation, and to our world.
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(main photo: Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, De’Lon Grant, Joel Hatch, Tony LePage, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Emily Walton, Jim Walton, Sharon Wheatley and Paul Whitty courtesy of Apple TV+)