When terrorist planes attacked the Twin Towers and the United States shut down its airspace, tiny Gander International Airport in Newfoundland stepped up and did its part. The Canadian airport opened its runways, managing to accommodate 38 wide-body planes on transatlantic routes.
But what about the 7,000 passengers? Nobody knew who exactly was on those planes. Rumors abounded. There could be criminals among those passengers.
Nonetheless, the people of Gander and surrounding fishing villages took them into their schools and community spaces, their churches and their kitchens. This, of course, is the inspiration for the musical, Come From Away, about to embark on a major North American tour.
It’s easy to fall in love with the warmth and generosity of the characters in the show. As the CBC episode points out, what conflict there is in the show is external to the main storyline.
The show…hinges on the incomprehensible brutality of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But the theme of Come From Away is kindness, and the richness of human interaction when generosity is reflexive. It’s all about the opposite of conflict, thus breaking the law of dramatic tension.
All of which leads me to think about kindness in children’s books. John Frank’s collection of poems, Lend a Hand, explores generosity and giving in a child-sized world. From sandwiches to seats, puppies to trees, the poems speak of children sharing, giving of themselves through acts of kindness.
Trudy Ludwig’s The Invisible Boy, illustrated by Patrice Barton, is another gentle rendering of a small act of kindness with large consequences. One of the loveliest elements in the book is how the boy Brian changes from one spread to the next, slowly becoming more real with the increasingly visible use of color in the art.
It’s true. Kindness grows us. It allows us to be and to become. Unkindness belittles those who give it and those who receive it.
And finally, here is an epistolary novel that is even more relevant today than when it was first published a few years ago: Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani. The fictional correspondence between Meena, an Indian immigrant girl living in New York City’s Chinatown, and River, a Kentucky coal miner’s son, points the way to how two young people can take small, incremental steps toward each other, finding common ground against all odds. Here is the opening of Meena’s first letter:
I cannot tell from your name if you are a boy or a girl so I will just write to you like you are a human being.
and here is an honest and curiously touching passage from River’s reply:
I have never met anybody from New York City before. I’ve always heard that people from up there are real rude and will not hold the door for you, and you’ll get mugged if you walk down the street. Is this true? My mamaw says it is probably a stereotype, which I looked up in the dictionary and it means “an oversimplified opinion.” She also said to remember the Golden Rule, which she says a lot. She is real big on the Golden Rule, which is from the Bible, I guess. I don’t have time to look it up right now. Do you believe in the Bible? Since you are an Indian, I don’t really know.
Since 2013 when Same Sun Here was published, much has changed in the United States. Where the Gander story indicates there is a kinder, gentler worldview to be had in the north, the election in House and Vaswani’s book is altogether different from that of today’s reality. If River and Meena were real people, could they even bear to write to one another today?
But they are not real, and therein lies the power of a book. Within its pages, we can recreate the world and right its wrongs. And perhaps too, we can learn (or relearn) to lean in to kindness.