Our family just returned from New York City where my son starts school in the fall. What an amazing city! Sinatra got it right: “I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps!” While there, we visited the 9/11 memorial and museum. It was very moving for me. It reminded me of a story of another city that united as an influence for good on a day characterized by evil.
On September 11, 2001, 240 U.S.bound flights were diverted to Canada when American airspace was closed due to the terrorist attacks. Thirty-nine of those flights were re-routed to Gander, a town of about 10,000 people in Newfoundland. After spending as much as 28 hours on the planes, the 6,579 passengers were allowed to disembark. Gander took them in. They came to be known as the “plane people.”
The people of Gander and surrounding fishing villages filled their schools, homes, community rooms and churches with cots for the stranded passengers, including the 17 dogs and cats and 2 great apes that came with them! The mayor and most of the residents cooked them elaborate meals, let them sleep in their homes, use their showers, borrow their cars. The residents provided them with needed medication and access to phones and computers so they could contact family and friends. On a day when evil seemed to prevail, hope and beauty prevailed.
The passengers were finally able to reboard their planes after 3 days. None of the townspeople would accept money. A longtime fundraiser for a major U.S. university was returning home on Delta #15. She had an idea. She asked each of the passengers on the flight to contribute to a scholarship fund for the children of Gander. They had $15,000 by the time they landed. The Lewisporte Area Flight 15 Scholarship fund has now grown to about $2 million. Close to 250 graduates of Lewisporte Collegiate have received scholarships.
A small town making a big impact - serving, extending hospitality to the disenfranchised, sacrificing for others simply because they are “plane people.” Then, the “plane people” giving back.
This does not have to be a one-off inspiring story. We long to see this be a continual norm in our city. New Nashville exists to promote a safe yet challenging space to explore ideas, opinions and stories so that understanding, dignity and respect grows among plain people like us in this city.
Our new season of the New Nashville Gathering begins April
This season our topic will be Immigration: what it means for our city to embrace its growing diversity and how different cultures and faiths interact. LEARN MORE