photo by Charles Edward Case

The musical Come from Away has been running on Broadway since it opened in 2013. It is adored by those who have seen it. Tourists and residents alike continue to fill seats at the Schoenfeld Theater, and no wonder. The show tells a story of open hearts and generosity in the midst of heartache and fear. The plot is based on something that really happened: in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, when airplanes were grounded in the U.S., 6600 passengers and crew from 38 planes originally scheduled to fly into our country were diverted to the small town of Gander, Newfoundland.

The population of Gander stands at around 9000 people. In an instant and without preparation their census almost doubled—foreigners from all over the world arrived in their tiny community—and without hesitation residents opened their homes. They cooked, cleaned, transported and comforted the strangers in their midst. They created community in the unexpected moment when people arrived who were in need.

Although romance is the main focus of Valentine’s Day, the real St. Valentine was a healer who ministered to Christians who were persecuted in the earliest days of the church. His actions embodied Christ’s command to love others through acts of mercy. His commitment to Christ was made visible in his commitment to those around him who needed help.

In addition to the Broadway musical, HBO released a documentary about Gander called, You Are Here: A Come From Away Story. The film introduces viewers to Nick and Diane Marston who met in Gander on 9/11, fell in love, and eventually married. In a newspaper interview over a year ago, Diane said, “There was so much evil, tragedy and sadness going on…in Newfoundland there were so many angels who took care of us.” And another passenger replied, “My new mantra is, why do we have to wait until a natural disaster or terrorist attack occurs to be kind and compassionate?”

A rhetorical question, to which the Gospel response is clear.