COLUMN: Finding the Spirit of Sharing

Columnist ML Burke remembers her visit to New York, memories of 9/11 and what we can accomplish when we put our differences aside.

The 9/11 memorial in New York City as seen from the World Financial Center in June 2012.

Today is a perfect day to stay inside and write this column. It’s our first big snowfall and I’m so happy I don’t have to go anywhere. The fire glows beside the Christmas tree as carols waft in the background.

I also need to write my annual Christmas letter, which requires a look back on this year. There are two events that stood out. One was the US election result which continues to discombobulate my poor brain. But I’ve already talked enough about that train wreck, so I’m going to tell you a true story more suitable to this time of year.

The second big event was finding myself in New York City on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. It was a coincidence I was there on that date when the entire city was under ultra high security. Squadrons of nine jet fighters flying three abreast circled the airspace above Manhattan and huge black military helicopters hovered around the Statue of Liberty.

I visited Ground Zero, the Freedom Tower and the two haunting memorials where the twin towers once stood. The repeated military flyovers just added to what was a very emotional day. It took me back to that day in Vancouver where I witnessed on live TV the second plane flying into the south tower.

Suddenly, continental USA closed their airspace and thousands of planes were diverted to Canada. The tiny community of Gander, N.L. showed an exceptional generosity of spirit by providing food, shelter and comfort to thousands of stranded travellers for days.

Back in Vancouver, similar acts of kindness were taking place. My son-in-law, who I often spar with over politics, invited me for dinner. This was curious considering everything that was going on that day.

It turned out he was feeling helpless and wanted – needed – to do something positive. Unbeknownst to me, he had loaded my two grandchildren, aged four and five, into the van, driven to the Vancouver International Airport, and together, they picked out a stranded family waiting in a long line for billeting. That family had come all the way from Australia prior to being diverted to Vancouver.

When I arrived for dinner the kids gleefully informed me about their rescue mission as I was introduced to this tired but appreciative family of four. They stayed for a few days before being able to leave. This made me re-evaluate my errant son-in-law to the point where I sometimes let him believe he’s won an argument.

As Christmas approaches I am reminded of that day, not how it started, but how it ended, by bringing out the inherent goodness within us. Canadians, and especially Newfoundlanders, showed the world what is possible when 38 planes suddenly land instead of the usual eight and a community’s population jumps from 10,000 to 17,000: They rise up to do what’s needed.

Be proud, Canada, and continue to be kind. It’s been a challenging year all over the world and it’s more important than ever to keep our hearts and minds open. Enjoy the holidays!

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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