Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Day the World Came to Town

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland
by Jim DeFede
New York : Regan Books, 2002.

I haven't read any books that deal with 9/11. Though the events were ten years ago, they seem closer than that to me, and have shaped much of my adult life. I wanted to somehow commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, but I was afraid to read something that might turn dark and dismal. This story of townspeople reaching out to people whose planes were forced to land when U.S. airspace was shut down would be just the thing - true, yet uplifting. Still, especially in the beginning, when various people - pilots, air traffic controllers, the mayor of Gander - hear about or watch the planes fly into the towers, my heart starts pounding and my muscles tense. I find myself curling up tight in my chair, breathless. I didn't expect such a visceral response, or to feel instantly transported to the confusion and fear of that day, only my second week of college classes, the first class an English class from 9:30-11:15, our professor never breathing a word (did he not know?). And I remember how strange was the absence of the noise of airplanes, then the recurrence of them overhead.

There were 6,132 passengers, plus pilots and crews, on the flights diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. The townspeople could have put up a few shelters, called in the Red Cross, and called it a day. Instead, DeFede tells the stories of ordinary and extraordinary kindnesses - people giving their own towels to shelters, opening their homes, offering rides, and filling prescriptions free of charge. The stories of 6,000+ people could not fit in one book, but the stories of several are told here, often switching back and forth quickly between people keeping events in roughly chronological order through the several days Gander and the surrounding towns embraced their unexpected guests. Their stories made me laugh and cry in turn. I can't promise that I'll read any other books about 9/11, but I'm certainly not disappointed I read this one.

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