Tag Archives: September 11

Coming (Back) from Away

Coming (Back) from Away     —by Jinny Batterson

This year I spent much of the summer outside the U.S., on an extended trip to parts of England with my long-term husband Jim, a long-ago English literature student.  Our roughly six-week trip included several weeks of leisurely walks through parts of the English countryside, with a two-week interval mid-trip in a rented apartment in London.  When we arrived in London by train from the much smaller city of Bath, this financial and cultural global capital seemed noisy, diverse, crowded, especially at first. To exacerbate the situation, partway through our first week we experienced several days of the heat wave that had been broiling much of Europe. Gradually, we adapted. We learned to relish London’s many green spaces, to marvel at the tidal Thames just outside our apartment windows. We also went to shows, lots of shows.

Jim had scoured the internet to find a balance of venues and genres. We saw a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in a replica of the Globe Theater. We attended a stand-up show at a small comedy club in the basement of a gay bar. We were part of an evening audience for Agatha Christie’s vintage whodunit, “The Mousetrap,” now in its 68th year. Our tickets to a reissued drama about midlife in New York City, “The Starry Messenger,” got upgraded so we were closer to the stage than our budget usually allowed. Its main character was never explicitly shown: the 1930’s building housing the Hayden Planetarium, about to be demolished in the late 1990’s when the play was set.

The performance I enjoyed most was a musical, “Come from Away,” also with a huge off-the-stage presence. Its dozen actors represented some of the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada and some of the temporary airline guests “come from ‘away’,” from off this isolated island at the eastern edge of Canada. For several days, Ganderites sheltered crew and passengers from “away” in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Immediately after the attacks, U.S. air space was closed. Planes coming from Europe were diverted to Gander’s airport and sat on the tarmac there until onward flights to U.S. cities again became possible. Gander’s leaders and townspeople opened their public spaces and their homes to the refugees. They provided shelter, food, medicine, clothes, toilet facilities, and human caring, no one sure how long the visitors’ stays might last. Especially in our current political and media environment, I was grateful to be reminded of the goodness that can coexist with hatred and terror. That the performance was a musical added to my enjoyment. After a little while tuning my ear to the varying accents of British actors playing Newfies, U.S. pilots and passengers from different regions, plus passengers from many different countries, I gradually decoded the major characters’ speech patterns. From then on, the generally upbeat but not Pollyannaish plot and songs held my attention and my heart.       

Returned to the U.S., once over the worst of my post-trip jet lag, I researched the origins and performance history of “Come from Away.”  Created by married Canadian authors Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the musical had its genesis at a 2011 reunion gathering of some of the nearly 7,000 passengers who’d been temporarily stranded in Gander and the roughly 9,000 residents who’d provided exceptional hospitality under exceptionally trying circumstances. The show was first performed regionally in parts of Canada and the U.S. It  opened on Broadway in 2017, in London in 2019, and currently has a global touring company. (For a brief interview with authors and director, check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0m5P-Ej5svA). I even found a recent clip from Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show”— a “street theater” performance by “Come from Away”’s Broadway cast during a mid-July 2019 partial NYC electric blackout.

Coming “back home” after England, I found it at first a little strange. Why did I not have to strain to understand people’s accents? At the same time, I was glad to have had the chance to spend time physically “away.” Not everyone has the luxury of overseas tourism, I realize. Yet whatever our physical circumstances, each morning, each one of us alive comes back on waking from the “away” of our sleeping selves. May we give thanks, then take maximum advantage of such grace-given returns.           

International Day of Peace, September 21

International Day of Peace, September 21    —by Jinny Batterson

For nearly a decade, I’ve received annual reminders of a celebration of an “international day of peace” on September 21, around the time of the equinox (autumn in the northern hemisphere, spring in the southern).  I relish these reminders to refocus during what too often can be a harried and hurried time, with back-to-school events, work crises, health check-ups, omnipresent political campaigns.  So this year’s reminder was especially welcome—2016’s politics in my home country, the United States of America, appear even more ugly than usual. The timeframe for this year’s peace celebrations has expanded, I learned, now encompassing the eleven days between September 11 and September 21. This year’s celebrations focus on global development goals. 

As nearly as I can tell via online search, the United Nations began issuing annual proclamations for a day of peace in 1997 as part of a broader global effort to advance a transition to a culture of peace. Their initial resolution called for a “transformation from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence.” The resolution defines the culture of peace as based on “respect for human rights, democracy and tolerance, the promotion of development, education for peace, the free flow of information, and the wider participation of women,” in addition to disarmament efforts. This year’s events include several in the area of central North Carolina where I live. I hope to attend at least some of them: http://www.paceebene.org/event/cnv-actions-raleigh-areanc-peace-week/.

My understanding of peace continues to evolve from an initial aversion to my fiance’s draft status in 1969 near the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Over time, I’ve come to believe that peace is much more comprehensive than the absence of armed conflict, whether among nations, among non-national groups who use violence to try to further their aims, or between individuals. It seems increasingly clear to me that peace needs to exist at all the same levels in which violence can incubate, from a single person to the entire global community. Peace grows best in an atmosphere of abundance, based partly on sharing, and partly on our inner conviction that we have, and, more importantly, ARE enough. 

One group that I support whose peacemaking involves a transition to abundance is Heifer International. First started in the wake of World War II as a way to restock farm animals to war-ravaged areas of Europe, the program now exists in 30 countries on five continents. Heifer conducts long-term efforts to alleviate poverty and promote peace through both donations of farm animals and education in sustainable farming practices. The autumn 2016 issue of their magazine, World Ark , includes an extensive interview with author/activist Frances Moore Lappe, first known for her seminal work on global food resources, Diet for a Small Planet (published in 1971). Lappe has gone on to publish fifteen more books, and to become a global activist for peace and development. Her take on what may be needed to transition toward peace and abundance resonates with me:  “While scarcity can be a lack of the physical resources that we need to thrive, such as food, water and energy, it can also be a presumption of the scarcity of goodness in human beings. Unfortunately, our media largely offers the most frightening and horrifying news, reinforcing this sense of lack of goodness in us. As you know, there are many fewer stories about our nobility, humanity, and our natural desires to help, to share and be compassionate, than there are about our brutal side.” 

Part of my individual effort this season to cultivate peace is to minimize my media exposure, while at the same time staying informed enough to function in our increasingly interconnected, interactive world. Another practice has been inspired by one of the more heartening reactions to September 11, 2001: a musical setting to a breathing meditation by a Georgia-bred songwriter who reacted to the airplane-mediated suicide bombings by creating a melody and chorus:  “When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace, when I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.”  (The entire song, including verses, is online at http://www.sarahdanjones.com/music-1.html).

It turns out that the equinox here this year will not be until September 22. Peace activities in my town won’t culminate until Saturday, September 24. Still, I urge all of us who breathe to try today, as the simplest, smallest step toward peace, to take at least a couple of breaths using the “breathe in peace” refrain.