By Brynn Weisholtz ’20
Standing in line to see Come From Away at the Schoenfeld Theater in New York City, I found myself wishing I were on a different line waiting for basically any other show. I peered around at the other shows near me. I saw Dear Evan Hansen and sighed; Kinky Boots and smiled; Hamilton and gasped. Indeed, I knew nothing about Come From Away except that my mother had met an older woman at Dear Evan Hansen who raved about it and convinced her to catapult Come From Away to the top of our Broadway wish list.
As the doors opened at 7:30, the line filed into the smallest theater I had ever been in. My family took our seats and, as I looked around, I noticed that the average age of the audience was somewhere between the ages of my parents and my grandparents. Suddenly, I heard a woman explaining that she and her husband had flown into New York City from Newfoundland this very morning to see the play. As the lights began to dim, my curiosity was piqued by her story; she had, in fact, lived through some of the events that were to be featured in the musical.
I knew Come From Away centered around the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, where an intimate community rallied to help strangers following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, I did not have any concept of how the tragic events of the day forever changed the lives of the selfless people of Gander. With air traffic halted and planes unable to land in the United States, 38 planes were diverted to Gander Airport, and Gander, with a population of only 9,000, welcomed over 7,000 strangers from across the world with open arms. At a moment’s notice, cots were set up in schools, supplies were retrieved from local stores, food was prepared, and no questions were asked except, “What else can I do?”
I was truly in awe of all the people who opened their hearts and homes to complete strangers. The residents of Gander welcomed citizens from all walks of life and were not deterred by language or cultural barriers; instead, they bonded, embraced one another, celebrated life, and mourned the world’s tragedy alongside strangers, some of whom would become lifelong friends.Throughout the 100-minute musical, I was entranced by the story depicted on stage, one that brought both laughter and tears to my fellow onlookers and myself. While the majority of the audience appeared to vividly remember the events of 9/11, I only know of that day through second hand stories, as I was not yet born. Growing up in a post-9/11 world, I cannot fully comprehend how different life used to be, but the musical brought me to a better understanding of how radically the world around me has changed. Although I was not alive that fateful September morning, the tears I shed at the performance of Come From Away connected me with the people in that theater just as the people of Gander connected with their visitors. The show I regretted leaving my house for opened my eyes to see how selfless humans can truly be.