Last night I saw Come From Away, a musical about the 7000 airline passengers whose flights were diverted to the tiny village of Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. It's a whimsical Irish-rock musical, a celebration of small-town decency amid historic tragedy. The simple folk of Newfoundland welcome one and all. The black New Yorker, the gay couple and the African family's fears of these backwoods cod fisherman all prove to be misplaced. A woman from the ASPCA spends the days after September 11 caring for the animal cargo on one of the planes. A British oil man and a divorced Texas woman strike up an unlikely romance. A polite Egyptian man who excites the fears of all turns out to be a top-notch chef. An old man, the son of Polish Jews who was forbidden by his parents to show his background, confesses his roots to a young Orthodox rabbi. The mother of a firefighter in New York waits anxiously to hear news of her son, relying on the counsel of a local. The musical is an Irish wake. The world was going to hell, but in a tiny village of Newfoundland, on the eve of what would be a decade of war, empire-crumbling and a near-debilitating financial crisis, a diverse group of people created, as the British oil man describes it, "a diversion."
You either let yourself laugh and be moved by this sort of thing or you don't and I happen to believe that life is too short not to surrender to sentimentality every now and then. I maintain that the behavior of New Yorkers in the days following the tragedy reveals a profound wish for community. I don't think many people want to admit it, but there was a great joy in lining up at blood banks and discovering a small-town relationship to the big city in which you live. Pretty much all of us wouldn't mind living in a socialist utopia.