Prior to this year, it's safe to say that 2001 framed the world differently for those of us in Generation X. The events of 9/11 were unlike anything that we had previously seen, including the AIDS crisis, the Challenger disaster and the assassination attempt of Reagan. We were too young to remember Vietnam or other events at that scale of terrible.
That year was also a time when I saw the potential of humanity, as the world stood with the United States, and our president at the time, for all his faults, frequently reminded us that we are a nation of diverse races, ethnicities and religions, and the sick people who committed such violent acts must not divide us along those lines.
Unfortunately, it felt like that sentiment expressed by President Bush didn't last very long, and it undoubtedly drove us to war against someone to respond to the pent up rage, though it had nothing to do with the terrorists. It felt like "never forget" was co-opted from a term meant to honor the people that died that day, to a call for revenge. It still makes me feel uneasy. When I finally visited the memorial and museum a few years ago, I felt that it captured the sentiment from the months following the attack, and it gave me peace. I'm not sure if that matters or not, because beyond the temporary unemployment I endured, I can't say that I was that connected to the day. Ultimately, it doesn't matter much what I think as much it does to the families that lost someone that day, so I think it's best that I defer the "right" way to view the day to others.
Still, I was witness to it, even from afar, and of course it affected me. Last year, because I'm me, a musical called Come From Away reframed 9/11 for me. If you haven't heard of it, it's an extraordinary show that chronicles the five days starting that morning, only entirely in Gander, New Foundland, Canada. There were 38 planes that were diverted to this small town when everything was grounded. This small town happens to have a big airport that is mostly unused, but in the days before jets, it's where everyone had to stop before crossing the Atlantic or coming from Europe. The 7,000 passengers there essentially doubled the population of the town.
The show is based on a number of real people who lived there or were on those planes, and it shows what can happen when humans are thrown into a difficult situation. It's largely what you would expect... the town does everything it can to help the stranded people, and everyone helps each other out regardless of color, religion or sexual orientation. It's funny and sad and wonderful, and will likely always be one of my favorite shows. Prior to the pandemic, it was playing all over the world.
I hang on to that show tightly these days. The level of selfishness that I see in our society makes me sad. Many people seem unwilling to exercise empathy for people who are in vastly different circumstances of wealth, racial inequality, discrimination based on any number of attributes, health challenges, difficult relationships, etc. And objectively, this pandemic is far worse, the equivalent of a 9/11-sized death toll every few days that could be mitigated if we had any real leadership and shared sense of purpose the way people did around 9/11.
One of the themes that Come From Away explores toward the end of the show is that the people of Gander and their guests somehow became better, but only because of the tragedy that occurred. That's what I really wish for the world, that out of the worst things, something better can come from it. That's my dream.