A cure of souls l Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Oct 24, 2018

My wife, as do certain women of a certain age, has occasional internal thermostat issues. She tends to run a little warm, in other words. This makes it frustrating for her, living among other humans who have normal body temperatures, and it doesn’t look like fun.

I’m occasionally tempted to joke and tell her she’s just a hot-blooded woman, but I’ve discovered that this is actually a pretty good way to die.

She doesn’t find me amusing in these situations, so I tend to keep my mouth closed and the window open.

The other night, then, after we’d parked our car in a downtown Seattle garage and were heading out for some culture, I wondered aloud if I should bring my coat. It had been a warm, sunny day, and she scoffed at me, this ice princess, which only meant that I eventually ended up turning around and going back to the garage to retrieve it.

This has nothing to do with anything, except it felt a little nippy, just as it did in 1977. One January night that year, high up in the mountains of northern Arizona, I stood in the snow for over an hour happily talking about comedy and comedians with Tom Tuerff, another 18-year-old I’d just met.

I seem to remember a long conversation about Robert Klein.

We were two college freshmen, acting in a play together because we liked acting in plays, as well as funny people. I’ve known Tom ever since, even if years went by with no contact.

He went into advertising, and developed a side career as one of the funniest satirical songwriters/performers in Arizona, where he lives.

Eventually the internet was invented, and so Tom and I hooked up again. I own a couple of his CDs, and when I visit the state I occasionally have the chance to grab a bite to eat with Tom and catch up.

This is how I found out about Kevin Tuerff, Tom’s cousin.

Kevin and his partner were flying from France to the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. It turned out to be a much longer trip than they’d anticipated.

Following the attacks on 9/11, U.S. airspace was closed completely, with hundreds of flights having to divert. Many coming from Europe ended up heading for Gander, in Newfoundland. Gander is a small town, created in the mid-1930s as a convenient refueling spot for transcontinental flights.

Used extensively during World War II, it became known as “crossroads of the world.”

Eventually 42 planes landed in Gander on Sept. 11, bringing nearly 7000 stranded passengers to this town of roughly 10,000, where many of them remained for nearly a week. Among them was Kevin Tuerff.

The story’s been told many times by now. Kevin himself wrote a book, “Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11,” and there are others, as well as documentaries and a TV film. A decade after Sept. 11, Canadian playwrights David Hein and Irene Sankoff began to workshop a musical based on the story, which eventually had a wildly successful run in Seattle before reaching Broadway in 2017, where it was also a hit.

And now it’s returned to Seattle, at the 5th Avenue Theater, which is why I needed a coat Friday night. I’ll see anything at the 5th Avenue anyway, but this felt like a personal connection.

I loved the show, by the way.

The ensemble cast, playing multiple roles (passengers and townspeople), brought remarkable energy and passion to this moving, often hilarious, and thoroughly enjoyable play. It was paced quickly and without an intermission, arriving at the conclusion at around an hour and 40 minutes, minus the applause.

There was a bit of applause, as you can imagine.

Kevin is a major character in the musical; you can’t miss him. And while we can imagine that all involved were changed by the experience, it appears that Kevin Tuerff had a significant reaction. He seems to have refocused his life, having been transformed by what should be common and yet somehow feels rare and special: human kindness.

“Kindness,” in fact, has become a code word in certain circles these days. To some, it represents weakness, a softness toward immigrants and refugees, at the very least soft-headedness toward a very real problem that apparently justifies separating children from their parents and putting them in cages.

Some people don’t like to use the word, even.

My friend Scott Anderson, a Presbyterian minister, spoke recently about Seattle poet Denise Levertov’s poem, “A Cure of Souls.” He pointed out that she’d created a new collective noun of sorts, like a gaggle of geese or a pride of lions.

A “cure of souls,” then, could be a collection of all of us, mortal, with ephemeral lives, all marching toward the same conclusion, although I’d prefer to expand that.

I’d like to think that the perfect definition of a cure of souls would be the townspeople of Gander, and the passengers of those 42 planes. Lost, surprised, unprepared, uncertain, some in need of basic needs and some who could help, might help, had to help, because that’s what a cure does.

It helps.

We help each other, in other words, at least if we’re a cure of souls, and of course we are. “Come From Away” won’t fix what ails us, but it might be a reminder that we’re supposed to fix ourselves, and we know how. Sometimes we just have to use our words.

Maybe one in particular.

 

 

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