When the planes struck the Twin Towers on 9/11 many lost faith, but for those like American Kevin Tuerff, who found themselves stranded in Gander, this was about to become an encounter with strangers they would never forget
Kevin Tuerff believes in the power of pay it forward, and he attributes that belief to the people of Gander. From providing shelter and food to picking up and dropping Kevin and his travelling companion off at Walmart to buy new clothes, Tuerff says the kindness “the plane people” received from Newfoundlanders was a life changing experience.
Pay it Forward 9/11
“The concept of Pay it Forward stems from those events on Sept. 11. While there was this horrible tragedy, I experienced the kindness of strangers. A kindness that restored my faith in humanity and ever since that time in Gander, on the anniversary of Sept. 11, I’ve wanted to flip tragedy into hope and the Pay it Forward method is one way that anyone – everyone – can participate in that.”
Tuerff is Kevin T from the now famous Broadway play, Come From Away. Tuerff is proud to have played a role in the production’s creation, no matter how small. “It’s remarkable. Anyone who came in not knowing anything about the story, they say this is the best musical they have ever seen in their lives. Before it was on Broadway, it was my mission to tell everyone the story of Gander until everybody knew it because it is such a wonderful story. It’s a story that needs to be told and the world we live in is so divided and this is a message that needs to be heard. No one expected this (the experience of ‘the plane people’) to go this far but this is a message the world needs. It can’t spread fast enough. I wish (Come From Away) could be in every American city now.”
Changed His Life
Tuerff, who was welcomed into the community of Gander, as were the 6,500 others who suddenly found themselves stranded in the small town when flights were diverted on 9/11, says what he experienced in kindness has changed his life many times over.
“Living it changed me, but so has seeing the play. It changed my mission. I’ve stepped down from my company and I’ve found a spiritual calling to find ways to help immigrants and refugees. That was never on my radar. That all began last year after I saw the musical in Washington. It’s an important issue and it all boils down to what I learned from the people in Gander; kindness to strangers.”
Tuerff’s Pay it Forward passion began with a small gesture. He began giving each employee in his company $100 to do some good with on the anniversary of 9/11.
From buying bikes for children in need, to purchasing hula hoops for a child care centre, to helping a stranded stranger fix a tire; staff really got creative when called upon, he said. But gestures don’t have to be grand to be good.
No Act Too Small
“No act is too small and it doesn’t require money. Open a door for an elderly person, let someone cut in front of you in traffic; just be kind. Each of those things add up. We get lost in our day-to-day lives. We all are addicted to our devices and we have these phones that are supposed to make our lives easier and make us more connected to others but we are less connected because we don’t look up at humanity around us. If I’m ever walking and texting, I force myself to go do a good deed immediately. When I find myself being disconnected and missing out on what’s going on around me, that’s my new way to try and change my own behaviour and help others.’’
Speaking about the role for Canadians, Tuerff says it’s important for Canadians to know that 9/11 is a National Day of Service. “Twenty-six Canadians died in the World Trade Center and at a time when relations are strained with America maybe this story of Gander is one way to help bridge that gap and help heal.”
Kevin Tuerff is the author of ‘Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11.’ Visit channelofpeacebook.com. Follow on Twitter @channelof_peace or @Channel_of_peace_book on Instagram.