I’ve always loved the following quote by Mr. Rogers, and it pretty much sums up this whole book: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
One of the effects of the terrorists attacks on September 11th was that all air traffic in the United States was ordered grounded, immediately. For a lot of people, that meant landing in strange cities in strange countries, with no idea what was going on or when they would return home. 38 jetliners, containing over 6,000 people (and a handful of animals), landed in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. The tiny town (and its surrounding neighbors) rallied around these strangers, doing everything they could to help during several terrible days.
For The Day the World Came to Town, Jim DeFede collects dozens of little stories from travelers and Gander natives — how different people helped in different ways. I found myself tearing up several times, especially when hearing about the families traveling with small kids (two couples had toddlers that they had just adopted in Romania and were traveling home with). My idea of a personal hell would be traveling on a plane with my two boys (haven’t done it yet — not going to for years if I can help it). I can’t imagine being stranded in another country with them, with no idea how or when we could return home. Several people trapped in Gander had friends and relatives in New York City — people who worked in the towers, or firefighters and police officers. Their fear and stress was particularly high, and the people of Gander rallied around them however they could.
DeFede’s writing is…not great. There’s little sense of organization in how he arranged the book, and sometimes he gets in his own way. But the stories here transcend all of that, and will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.