Values that remind me of home

Enthusiasm for embracing “normality” since the prime minister abolished common sense comes in peaks and troughs.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 9:26 am
The musical theatre production Come from Away tells the remarkable story of how 7,000 passengers landed in the small Canadian town of Gander during the 9/11 crisis and were made welcome by the town’s inhabitants.

I’ve experienced lockdowns in Manchester, London and at home in Lewis, and I can confirm that Lewis wins, and for reasons with which you’ll be very familiar.

Here in London, post-lockdown, it is sometimes difficult to tell there is still an active pandemic with the country registering nearly 40,000 new Covid cases a day.

Mask-less masses pack into tube carriages, people lean on bars shooting the breeze, as though variants are all Greek to them – and it’s hard to feel any sense of safety or comfort. On the other hand, I’ve been to the theatre twice in two weeks. So who am I to judge?

Packing into London’s world famous West End establishments is a privilege – and one that is a huge part of the attraction of living here.

However, it is still a little unsettling to see hundreds of people’s faces glistening in the low glow of the pre-show house lights, frantically ordering half time ice cream and willingly suspending our disbelief before the curtain is even raised to pretend we can leave Covid at the door.

Last weekend I saw “Come From Away” and, at the risk of my amateurishness detonating any chance of ever being a theatre critic, I can report it is absolutely fantastic.

It tells the true story of the days after the September 11th terrorist attacks portraying what happened when 38 airplanes were diverted to a small town called Gander in Newfoundland.

The 7,000 passengers and crew were welcomed by the 9,000 people in that community who found them places to stay, provided clothing, underwear, thousands of sandwiches – and, crucially, phones to call loved ones.

Clearly, it was pertinent to be there the weekend before the 20th anniversary of the attacks in New York City and a live recording of the production is to be released on 10th September which I’m already setting aside time to watch.

The show’s website says: “Discover the remarkable true story of a small town that welcomed the world.”

What struck me was how familiar the small town that welcomed the world felt to me.

There’s something unique about island communities who wake up to their Darkest Dawn. What lives in this show is the remarkable ability for human beings to be kind to one another, even in the storms of life.

“Welcome to the Rock'' is the opening song where we’re introduced to the people of Gander – the mayor, the police officer, the teacher. They sing “I’m an islander” eight times between verses. That was the first recorded moment of my eyes welling up that evening.

A REFLECTION OF HOME

The love that radiates from the people of Gander is exactly the same as you feel when you emerge out of Stornoway airport into the arms of your family.

The music has hints of cajun, hints of ceilidh, a bit of sea shanty – it’s the sound of home.

It’s hard to express adequately, but that feeling of “rising to the challenge in front of us” is one that quietly hums through this show – and one that is soaked into the culture of our ancestors too.

There are no complaints, only soundless – almost poetic – determination to do what is required.

Care and kindness effervesces off the stage, as it does from any kitchen table you are fortunate enough to sit at when you’re home.

The kind-humoured, gently mocking, sceptical, intrigue the Newfoundlanders have of the “come from awayers” and the 95 countries they represent is not dissimilar to that we all have of the campervanning masses when they wander, wide-eyed into McNeill’s.

“You’ll be a Newfoundlander”, they sing, as they encourage the visitors to kiss a cod as part of their island initiation ritual. What a welcome!

Joe Westerfield reviewed “Come from Away” for Newsweek and said: “It takes you to a place where you didn't know you wanted to go, and makes you not want to leave.”

I think it’s more than that – it makes you want to be a part of that town, and take your turn in serving others.

Every seat flipped up as the finale culminated – the standing ovation was unanimous and universal, and I’m sure I heard some teary-sniffling *extremely* close to me...I can’t say exactly where that came from.

We stayed standing as the band played a jig that it took me all my strength not to strip the willow to – Covid rules, and all that.

Twenty years after 9/11, in the midst of a pandemic that has confined us, that is unprecedented and has changed the world, “Come From Away” reminds us that kindness, community and love provide solace for darkness and difficulty.

It celebrates unity and it is the most wonderful reminder of what makes life fulfilling. It reminds us of the value of people and family and loved ones.

It reminds us one of our finest legacies is to instil pride in our care for one another, and look after one another. It reminds me of home.