• David Carlson

540 I’d like them to know one thing: I have always tried to be a little more like you

Day 540 Tuesday, September 7th 2021

To all those who helped us and opened their homes and hearts to us, thank you is not enough. Two decades later, I’d like them to know one thing: I have always tried to be a little more like you.

9/11 and all US airports were closed. Many flights were forced to land in Canada - specifically in the town of Gander Newfoundland. This is one story:

I worked as a television reporter in Albany, N.Y. “What’s going on?” I whispered to a flight attendant who was trying to keep us calm. It was hot and starting to get smelly.

She motioned me over to a window away from the other passengers. “Look,” she said softly, raising the window shade so I could glimpse the 38 jets from all over the world, all grounded just like us. “We’re not going anywhere for a long time.”

She was right. What I didn’t know then was that this nightmare, and the five days I’d be stuck in this town I’d never heard of, would change me forever.

“You must be starving, honey,” I remember a Red Cross volunteer saying as she handed me a sandwich and we stumbled through the Gander airport assembly line. Most of us donate to the Red Cross once in a while. But when you’re the one they’re helping, you start wondering why you didn’t give more.

As I entered the crowded lobby of a school that would be my home for the next five days, I spotted passengers from other flights, their faces contorted and wet, eyes riveted to something perched above. I swiveled to find out why. Televisions. It was here — 15 full hours after the attacks — that we saw the towers fall. We sobbed together, speechless, exhausted and unable to move.

Over the next several days, we learned of the thousands of deaths and the tremendous, heartbreaking recovery effort.

The Ganderites, as we learned our hosts were called, hung their heads out of respect, cried with us, and hugged those who clearly needed it. They gently guided us into classrooms turned dorms, where homespun quilts decorated mattresses on the floor. It smelled like a high school locker room, but we were just as grateful as if it had been a five-star hotel. They supplied us with soap, razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Bone-tired, we collapsed into sleep.

In the morning, they greeted us with coffee, bacon and toutons — a local specialty that is like a pancake doughnut. Then, the homemade casserole train began. Can you imagine feeding thousands of unannounced houseguests? That’s what they did. All day long. Egg bakes, Newfoundland cod au gratin, even moose stew. The region is known for its hot dish delights.

On day two, news reports that the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald was hit hard by the terrorist attack reached my ears — and engulfed my heart. I knew that my college boyfriend Todd Isaac, a gregarious guy from the Bronx who earned his way to Phillips Academy prep school and the College of the Holy Cross, worked there. Please God, not Todd.

Cell service was spotty, so a kind young couple took us to their home to use the landline. I couldn’t reach Todd, so I asked a friend in New York to track down his roommate. We tried to give our hosts money for that call, and many others to follow, but they refused. They let us shower, outfitted us with their own clothes and talked with us for hours about our grief and lives back home.

They could have looked at us suspiciously. They could have thought that some 7,000 of us showing up in their town was an inconvenience. They could have balked at spending their own money to make endless casseroles and cover mounting phone bills. They could have said, “This isn’t my problem.” But they didn’t.

“This is just who we are,” I remember one lumberjack-looking guy explaining, as we thanked him over dinner in the school cafeteria. I have to wonder: Would Americans let strangers — especially foreigners — into their homes to shower?

On day three, we ventured to Walmart for clothes and underwear. Everything was practically gone, but I spotted one bright, flowery shirt dangling on a rack — not my usual style, but we were desperate. I grabbed one sleeve and another passenger grabbed the other. Back home, this might not have ended well. But here? We went back and forth insisting the other take it. I realized the locals were rubbing off on us.

Those five days made me look at my own American egoism and selfishness. I retell my son the story every year without fail. As a single mom, I’ve tried to raise him to be accepting, empathetic and kind. For years, I emailed with the couple who helped us, but then life happened, and I can’t find our messages anymore.

But I will never forget how they comforted me when my friend called to say DNA tests from Todd’s toothbrush confirmed he had perished in One World Trade Center. I called his mom after they finally opened up airspace and we returned to an empty and eerie JFK Airport. I could finally lock myself in my bedroom alone and cry.

“I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from you, Amy,” she said. “I was like, where is Amy? Does she know?” “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Isaac,” I said, struggling to speak. “I was one of the people trapped — I mean taken care of — in Canada.”

To all those who helped us and opened their homes and hearts to us, thank you is not enough. Two decades later, I’d like them to know one thing: I have always tried to be a little more like you.

Reflection by Amy Polacko

ANNOUNCEMENT: Women Erased Presentation by Future Church

Thank you for signing up to be a part of our "Women Erased" series.

Our next session with Dr. Nontando Hadebe and speakers on Women Erased: Women in the Midst of Pandemic. Dr. Hadebe and her panelists will talk about the pandemic and how women are particularly affected and disregarded from their book A Time Like No Other.

We will meet on Thursday, September 9, 2021 at 12 Noon ET (please note the time).

Here is the zoom link:


Passcode: 879329

Meeting ID: 899 7924 9588 It has been said that the Corona Virus Pandemic has been a light bearer that continues to shine light on the latent pandemics of the world. It has shown the world that the pandemic of racism and white supremacy continues unabated in the world. During “lockdowns” the “Black Lives Matter” Movement had to remind the world that black lives do matter. In South Africa, the bright light was shone on the pandemic of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, unequal access to basic needs like shelter, water, health facilities etc. issues of food security, corrupt government officials… the list goes on.

The stories shared touch on issues as experienced by women of South Africa. The stories carry audible voices of women’s pains and trauma of living in fear of violence in their homes – for themselves and for their children, fear of illness and death by the virus, and loss of loved ones. The truth is that poor women have suffered the effects of the pandemic the worst. Their stories are hardly told by the mainstream media. Still, as we hear these stories we will also hear of women’s resilience and “stubborn faith” in God.


Dr Nontando Hadebe is a theologian specializing in African Theology, Pastoral and Contextual Theology, Feminist and Womanist Theology, Liberation Theology, and Pastoral Theology.

Dr. Hadebe has a doctorate in theology from St Augustine College, having previously completed undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg. Her first studies were in law, in Zimbabwe, where she specialized in the Law and Administration of Deceased Estates at the High Court of Zimbabwe, before turning to theology.

Her doctoral dissertation at St Augustine was dedicated to A Trinitarian theological response to gender challenges in the context of HIV/Aids in Southern Africa.

She is a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians as well as the TCCRSA Women's Caucus comprising catholic women theologians in Africa. Raised as a Catholic, her spiritual journey subsequently took her to the Baptist and Anglican/Lutheran churches, and thence back to the Catholic Church. A common feature is that all the churches sent her to study theology, giving her a comprehensive theological education that includes Evangelical, Liberal protestant and Catholic theologies!

We look forward to learning with you!

Deborah Rose-Milavec & Russ Petrus Co-Directors

FutureChurch 3909 Rocky River Drive Cleveland, OH 44111 www.futurechurch.org

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