November 5, 2021
Genre/Categories/Setting: Narrative Nonfiction, Historical Event, 9-11, Gander (Newfoundland)
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
What if one definition of a hero is simply one who treats a stranger as a member of the family or one who provides towels or toiletries, or offers a shower, or sits to talk, or provides a board game, or prays with or for you, or gives you a ride to town, or takes you to the local pub or shopping?
On 9-11, thirty-eight jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland (Canada). This is the inspiring story of how the people (the heroes) of Gander (a town of barely 10,000) cared for nearly 7,000 passengers with gestures of friendship, acts of kindness, and attitudes of goodwill at a moment’s notice.
November Nonfiction: If you are looking for an inspirational Nonfiction November read, choose The Day the World Came to Town! It’s been on my radar for a while and as we approached the occasion of the 20th anniversary observance of 9-11, I thought this would be the perfect time to dive into this book. Do you ever feel that books come to you at exactly the right time? It helped that the audio is performed by the fabulous Ray Porter! Most of my review is comprised of quotes from the book….my words can’t compare to the first person documentation.
Where in the world is Gander, Newfoundland? Thirty-eight planes landed there on September 11, depositing 6, 595 passengers and crew members in a town whose poplation is barely 10,000.
Below you can see on Google Earth, how the streets of Gander are shaped in the image of a gander.
The People of Gander
“A Newfoundlander likes to put his [or her] arm around a person and say, ‘It’s going to be all right. I’m here. It’s going to be okay. We’re your friend. We’re your buddy We’ve got you.’ That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it always will be. And that’s the way it was on September eleventh.”
One old pub song in particular captures their solidarity and hospitality:
Raise your glass and drink with me to that island in the sea
Where friendship is a word they understand.
You will nevere be lone when you’re in a Newfie’s home,
Thereis no price tag on the doors in Newfoundland.
There will always be a chair at the table for you there,
They will share what they have with any one.
You don’t havve to worry, friend, if your pocketbook is thin,
There’s no price tag on the doors in Newfoundland.
The Best of Humanity:
If you’ve avoided reading books about 9-11 because of the overwelming grief and sadness of collapsing buildings and loss of life, this might be a good read for you because although we know what is transpiring in New York City, this story is especially inspirational despite the tragedy. Most of all, this story celebrates hospitality, doing your small part, strangers helping strangers, making a difference, diverisity, and the goodness of humanity (juxtaposed to the evil of the 9-11 attacks).
“If the terrorists had hoped their attacks would reveal the weaknesses in western society, the events in Gander proved its strength.”
One passenger was Werner Baldessarine, Chairperson of Hugo Boss.
His experiences and thoughts are documented by the following quotes (which are representative of most all the passengers):
“The bond with the passengers was rivaled only by [Baldessarini’s] attachment to the townpeople, whose compassion was so overwhelming. They took their visitors on driving tours of the countryside. They took them to their homes. The passengers weren’t treated like refugees, but like long-lost relatives, and the more he thought about it, the more it moved Baldessarini.”
“Coming from an environment as cutthroat as the fashion industry, Baldessarini realized this was not a feeling to ignore or casually dismiss. This was somehting to be relished. And given everything that was going wrong in the world, it was reassuring to see that right now, right here, in one small corner of the planet, something was going right.”
“There was no hatred. No anger. No fear in Gander. Only the spirit of the community. Here, everyone was equal, everyone was treated the same. Here the basic human of man wasn’t just surviving but thriving. And Baldessarini understood that he was a witness to it and it was affecting him in ways he’s never imagined.”
Treated Like Long-Lost Family:
One point made in the story is that the people of Gander treated the thoursands (!) of stranded passengers like long-lost FAMILY and not like REFUGEES.
“Their actions were more than just taking in passengers whose flight had been delayed. The Newfoundlanders had provided a caring haven for humdreds of people at a moment when they were scared and far from home. They were made to feel safe and secure when the world around them seemed anything but.”
“They always ask why we did it. They can’t figure it out. And I tell them that for us, it’s normal. I’m still not sure what all the fuss is about.”
“That has never left me, the feeling of love by perfect strangers that looked after us. You know, I’ve never experienced anyting like that in my life.”
“When everyone was in a state of sadness, confusion, worry….this town took on the burden of everyone there.”
A Message of Hope:
“People in Gander are just like us. Life in Gander is not perfect. The people who live and work there get divorced and struggle with unemployment, failed friendships, alcoholism, and drug abuse…. Nevertheless, given all those human frailities, what happened in Gander is still remarkable. And perhaps the lesson isn’t that these acts of kindness occurred because Gander is a magial place, but rather that the people came together in a time of crisis regardless of their own personal shortcomings. And if that’s the case, then it offers hope that all of us have that ability within us.” ~Author
Highly recommended: I’m enthusiastically recommending this inspirational true story for fans of narrative nonfiction, for readers who want to read more about 9-11, and for book clubs. I read a print copy and then listened later with my husband to the audio version (which is excellently performed by Ray Porter).
My Rating: 5 Stars
Meet the Author, Jim DeFede
Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in Talk, The New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.
Is The Day the World Came to Town on your TBR or have you read it?
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