When we feel life is running us over, it’s time to take an action to stand up, take an action that says, “I am not defenseless—I can act” in response.
Today, September 11, marks nineteen years, the space of a youth grown out of high school, since America lost nearly 3,000 people in a series of terrorist attacks at three locations. Now over the last six months a much larger number, 23,000, have died in the Pandemic in New York City alone. The total nationwide climbs over 181,000 and still grows. Staggering numbers. Yet fifty years after it was written, I think of “Hey, Jude,” one of the Beatles’ most popular songs. “Take a sad song and make it better!”
Rather than sitting silently in fear of the future, we can act. Take action to protect our communities and ourselves—covering our mouths and noses, staying 10 feet away, but there is something else we can do for ourselves while assisting others.
We can “pay it forward,” reaching out in ways large and small to show gratitude and to assist others.
This is not an idea I cobbled up myself. Kevin Tuerff (a distant, but wise cousin) boarded a plane on 9-11, 2011, and ended up in Gander, Newfoundland, when American air space closed. The plane’s refugees came to be known as “Come from Aways.” They came from all over the world on 38 suddenly landed planes brought together on this eastern corner of Canada on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
All 6,579 strangers were fed and clothed after a call went out to Gander, a town of 9,000 people. The residents donated enough sheets, sleeping bags, and pillows to turn their community college into a refugee shelter for the five days the “plane people” lived among them.
Passengers wanted to repay their hosts for their generosity. Kevin used his public relations skills and borrowed an idea from Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book and movie, Pay It Forward. He took the Gander experience and grew it into The Pay It Forward Foundation.
The idea is simple: doing a good deed for a stranger. If you are at the drive-through picking up coffee or lunch, pay extra to cover the cost for the person behind you. Take whatever you do–cut trees, sew on buttons, make muffins for a soup kitchen, sketch a sign, bake a cake, fix a neighbor’s gate, whatever you do, offer it to another. Extend yourself to grow good feelings, which help tear a little hole into the isolation and impotent feelings we can experience now. It need not be big.
Reaching out helps the giver as well as the receiver. Expressing gratitude rewards by warming two hears and may inspire future good deeds by giver and receiver. In these times of uncertainty, there are few acts that warm not one, but two hearts. Try it.
His short stay at Gander resulted in Kevin Tuerff’s book, Channel of Peace, Stranded in Gander on 9/11 and the Broadway play, “Come From Away,” which ran on Broadway and in Toronto, where it had a separate Canadian cast. He went back to Gander for the tenth anniversary and became an official Newfoundlander by “kissing the cod.” Formerly of Austin, he now lives in Manhattan, where he continues to practice Pay It Forward.
9/11 will be etched forever in my soul as I sat that day on the fourth floor of a building in Alexandria, Virginia. That structure where I sat trembled as the plane two miles away powered across the GW Parkway into US Department of Defense headquarters. A black plume of smoke rose, foretelling the disaster below.
That’s not something you forget, even nineteen years later. But it makes it all the more important to do a selfless thing today as we experience a much greater loss and we don’t know exactly when the deaths will stop. Gratitude is a salve I highly recommend.