What do strangers stuck in crisis do? They can make their situation worse or pull together to try to make it better. During our days as guests of Canada, the Nova Scotians generously pooled their resources to create a relatively flourishing reality for us, truly remarkable given the crisis. The story of how the Nova Scotians opened their lives to their 10,000 unexpected guests was made into a moving, PBS documentary called “Stranded Yanks,” which aired on the one-year anniversary of 9/11.
For those of us now encamped at Shearwater Air Force Base – one thousand of us – countless gestures of kindness were being extended, as I began to discover in the lobby of the base’s huge gymnasium. While we had been cooped up in the 777 on the tarmac the previous day, and unbeknownst to us, parents, teachers, and schoolchildren from the Tallahassee Community School of Dartmouth were arriving at the base with large boxes full of goodies: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant, shampoo, underwear, hair brushes, mousse, razors, bottled water.
The provisions seemed endless. Even ear plugs! Boxes were still arriving when I investigated the lobby at 8 a.m. after showering. “Take what you need,” a Red Cross worker told me. “It’s our gift to you.” Our hosts, to use a Christian expression, were giving grace. I was alone and disoriented but many of my concerns dissolved before the precise generosity.
We were given free roam of most of the huge base, including use of its recreational facilities and movie hall. We were fed three good meals a day from a wide-ranging menu in the large buffet restaurant. Wednesday evening, the officers’ mess was opened to us, where chefs grilled steaks and barbecued chicken in a terraced courtyard that included a well-stocked bar.
When they were off-duty, Navy personnel brought in to help run the base during our stay gave us lifts into town if we needed anything. That was a godsend because by Thursday my tight-fitting dress shoes were killing my feet from walking miles a day on the grounds. I copped a ride into Dartmouth with a Navy officer and bought a pair of comfortable walking shoes at Walmart. Some of us joked that “the service” here was better than what we would get at a four-star hotel – if we were offered that option, we decided we would stay at Shearwater.
Kathy, a passenger from Salt Lake City, told me, “It reminds me of Jesus saying, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in and fed me and clothed me.’” I thought about a time recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 4, where the communal living in Jerusalem among Jesus’ followers is described as being that of “great grace” because everything was being shared and no one lacked any needed thing.
Even the weather was a grace to us. With the exception of two hours light rain one afternoon, blue skies and delightful temperatures prevailed – no small blessing, considering that hundreds of us spent many hours outside on the grounds.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image by Mandajuice (permission via Creative Commons)