-Rev Melissa Fain-
About a year ago, Lindsey Ellis did a two-part film documentary on 9/11. It delved into multiple examples of media getting it wrong. I watched it May of 2017, and was captivated by just how wrong we get the attack, or better put, just how disconnected we already are.
I watched those videos in May of this year. This is important, because only a week or two later I came across a Tony article that discussed the possible contenders for best Musical. Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away were apparently neck in neck. With no context, I discovered the production team had put the Come From Away soundtrack on Youtube.
Pulling on my headphones, I let it play in the background while I did other things on the internet. Then I stopped. "Turn on the radio," the voice said. The singers began frantically explaining what they were doing. First day at the station. Getting coffee for the picket line. Five minutes until her smoke break.
"Holy crap!" I realized. "Are they going there?" It wasn't explicit. It wasn't the graphic depiction I'd become desensitized to, and had driven me further away from the moment. This was far away from the moment, a play that takes place in Newfoundland on September 11, drawing me in. I stopped everything and just listened. I cried multiple times. I hadn't cried about September 11th in years. I can't really remember know if I cried on that day. It was all so raw that I just kept going, but I cried while I listened to average people doing exceptional things.
Come From Away is the true story of the people of Gander, Newfoundland during the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Over the course of a week their tiny town doubled in size. No one was allowed back into American Airspace, and 38 planes had nowhere to land except Gander. Listening to just the soundtrack it felt real. Like a boulder being thrown in a pond. Most of us felt the after shocks of the event, even if we were not at Ground Zero. I felt most of the feelings expressed on stage. I knew most of the fears being told and sung to me. It captured the moment perfectly, because like those people, I was far away too.
Flash forward to two weeks ago. I was sitting in on a teacher's meeting when a phrase stuck with me. "We can talk about Chernobyl during 9/11, because these kids are not connected to the event." I won't lie, there was a sense of morbid truth when it was said. We allowed the silence to follow, like a brief memorial, and then everything moved on. It was an unspoken moment we all understood. I knew we were all playing that day silently in our mind.
Little did any of us know, a storm was coming.
Irma has given society a cultural turn. Just like she turned into Florida, we turned away from 9/11. MSNBC chose not to replay the Today Show footage from that day. I make a point of listening to the Glenn Beck program on 9/11, and for the first time I didn't want to listen to his recollections speaking over the audio from that day. Not because it was jarring, but because I had other focuses. Irma. Nature changed the dialogue, and just like that we moved on. Sixteen years for the ripples to die down. The shock still real at ground zero, but not as connected hundreds of miles away.
I think this is the first year we've collectively accepted that going back to 9/12 isn't going to save us today. September 11th forced us together on September 12th. Democrats and Republicans held hands and sang "God Bless America." We shared in collective sadness. Some of us, in this age of divisiveness, want that unity. I truly believe people turn back to that time, not because they want to relive the horror, but because they yearn for that brief dropping of arms that happened directly afterwards. Only, I think we collectively realize, as Irma washes away more than trees, that unity from that source is finally too far to reach.
Except what? Except 16 years after the fact Come From Away can bring me to tears. Except now we have a new horizon with new people who need support. I believe we are collectively, as a nation, choosing to turn towards our future, instead of recalling something that can never be again. There is hope in that story. We can unite now. We can put down our weapons. It is possible. Today we fight for peace. Today we divide out our anger. Today we look to help our neighbor on 9/12/17. Today, we see tomorrow.