Julie and I just finished a couple of very emotional days.
On Saturday afternoon we arrived in Gander to remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Our first stop was a dinner with a group of “plane people” who were returning to Gander for the event as well as some Gander citizens, a New York City firefighter, and a high school teacher from Long Island, NY who brought a group of his students with him to give pieces of steel from the World Trade Center to the people of Gander for their support and kindness 10 years ago.
Two particularly memorable moments occurred during dinner. At the next table were a couple who came over and introduced themselves. One was from England. The other from Texas. Turns out they had met in Gander on 9/11 and they are now married!! The other was a conversation with Kevin Tuerff who was there for the reunion with his wife. He is a successful businessman in Austin Texas. He was so moved by what happened to him in Gander that each year on 9/11 he gives each of his employees $100 and asks them to go out and use it for random acts of kindness and generosity for strangers. He also started a 10,000 Acts of Kindness campaign for the 10th anniversary. His company planned to donate $1, up to $10,000, to the Pay It Forward Foundation for each new foundation follower on Twitter @PIFFoundation from September 7 through September 11. He also encouraged people to describe their acts of kindness on the campaign’s Facebook page at facebook.com/PayItForward9.11
After the dinner we went to the Beyond Words Benefit Concert in Gander where we met Gander’s mayor Claude Elliott and many other plane people and local citizens.
On Sunday we had three events. The first was in Appleton, a town of about 900 people a few miles from Gander. One of the people who spoke had been diverted to Gander 10 years ago and liked it so much she had returned 21 times and has been given the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador for her efforts to build relationships. After the event I had a chance to visit with a group of young children who had made posters with the names of all of the victims at the World Trade Center.
After a lunch with the citizens of Appleton we went to Gander for the main event of the day. The civic center was packed with plane people, citizenry, and dignitaries from across Canada. I gave my remarks — which you can read if you want here. All I can say is it was very emotional for both me and Julie. These are good people who did a great thing. They didn’t do it for recognition. But they deserve it nonetheless.
We then flew to St. John’s for an evening event at Memorial University where so many of the diverted plane people were housed. We were greeted by Memorial’s Chancellor, and Canadian hero, Gen. (Ret.) Rick Hillier, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador’s Lieutenant Governor John C. Crosbie. Among the things I saw while there were the twice daily newsletters the school put out to keep their surprise guests informed.
Before I arrived I had assumed that the remembrance of the horrendous events of 9/11 would be a very sad and somber event. But in fact the emotion was much more complex. Of course we were saddened by the tragedies and the horrific loss of life. But there was something more afoot. We were celebrating the wonder of the human spirit. How people welcomed total strangers in their time of need. And how those strangers have tried to reciprocate.
I can’t tell you enough how glad we were to have shared the experience with them.