I was listening to NPR Weekend Edition on Saturday as I drove to the office as I do usually. Scott Simon was interviewing two guests, author Myriam J. A. Chancy and songwriter Dar Williams. In the interview Williams said something that was really interesting, the opposite of division is not unity but collaboration. Her point, I think, was that when we collaborate we can work together and still be who we are. This does not require radical challenges to our world view but rather looks for and affirms common ground. She talked about how while she was working on a book she learned about small town mayors who were embracing changes and their towns were thriving. One of these mayors, in upstate New York, invited and welcomed Hmong immigrants into their community and thanked them for “choosing us”. Dar Williams wrote a song about that town, “Little Town”.

When we look at the world around us things can look scary, unfamiliar, uncomfortable. Because of that we might look to what is familiar, maybe not comfortable or less scary but maybe more manageable. When we consider; do we really need a béchamel sauce for Mac n Cheese? Shouldn’t a macaroni and cheese recipe just be about macaroni and cheese? And nutmeg, who uses nutmeg in anything else but eggnog? If we can set aside our own likes and dislikes we may be able to go beyond the yellow and blue box and find a plethora of possibilities. The béchamel becomes a blank canvas to introduce combinations of cheese, gruyere, gouda, Parmesan, jalapeño cheddar, the possibilities are infinite. And seasonings like hot sauce or gochujang (maybe?) or shoyu for umami or miso. There are actually recipes for miso mac n cheese, and why not? Miso adds mild saltiness and umami.

When we set aside our preconceptions, plausible can become possible.

The mayor of the little town in upstate New York was able to see in Hmong immigrants the same kinds of concerns and joy and life that we all share. To welcome someone can be amazing. To welcome someone not because they look like us or speak like us or believe like us but simply because they are like us, that they are us. 

In 2001 US Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, grounded all US air traffic. Nearly 6,000 flights landed safely in two hours. With US air space closed international flights enroute were directed to airports outside US territory. Flights crossing the Atlantic were directed to Eastern Canada. Gander airport was where 38 of these planes with some 7,000 passengers landed. Gander’s population at that time was around 9,000. At first the passengers stayed on the planes but as the hours passed they were able to disembark and it was the people of Gander that welcomed the passengers who had “Come from away”. Twenty years later there is a book and a musical that celebrates those few days when, with kindness and compassion, strangers shared a common humanity.

History is replete with stories, examples of people acting with kindness and compassion. Sometimes a story like Gander’s “Come From Away” is retold in a book and on stage. We celebrate these extraordinary examples of people embracing life. Their stories resonate in our lives because we too in our daily, everyday lives lift up when we are able the lives round us through empathy, kindness and compassion