Call­ing for kind­ness

‘Let’s not let the ter­ror­ists own the day,’ says Kevin Tuerff in his book in­spired by his strand­ing in Gan­der

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - EDITORIAL - BY TARA BRADBURY

Re­turn­ing home to Austin, Texas, af­ter Sept. 11, 2001, Kevin Tuerff had changed. Hav­ing been an air­line pas­sen­ger forced to land af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks hap­pened and U.S. airspace was closed, Tuerff could eas­ily have come home jaded, dis­heart­ened, an­gry and fright­ened.

But he re­turned with a fuller heart.

Tuerff had been one of al­most 7,000 air­line pas­sen­gers stranded in Gan­der in the days af­ter 9-11, and de­spite the ter­ror and fear in the world, he ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing pos­i­tive that he car­ries with him to this day.

“We were treated to the most amaz­ing kind­ness from the peo­ple there,” says Tuerff, who is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind char­ac­ter Kevin T. in the Broad­way mu­si­cal “Come From Away. “We weren’t the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of refugees, we were seek­ing asy­lum in Canada, but we had no food, no shel­ter and no in­for­ma­tion, and the peo­ple of Gan­der and all across New­found­land, they pro­vided that will­ingly, openly and in re­mark­able ways.”

On the first an­niver­sary of 9-11, Tuerff closed the doors of his en­vi­ron­men­tal mar­ket­ing firm, paired up his em­ploy­ees, and gave each pair $100 cash. He told them to go and spend it on acts of kind­ness, then come back in the af­ter­noon for a meet­ing to dis­cuss what they had done.

Some bought cof­fees or bus passes for strangers. One team broke the money into 100 sin­gles, clipped a note to each dol­lar ex­plain­ing what they were do­ing, and handed them out on the street cor­ner. One team bought a $100 sav­ings bond and brought it to the ma­ter­nity ward of a lo­cal hos­pi­tal with a card: “Be­cause your baby is born on a day that will al­ways be linked to a day of tragedy, we’d like you to have some­thing pos­i­tive you may share with the child in fu­ture years.”

“One of the staff took $50 of the $100 and went to a tire re­pair shop,” Tuerff says. She said, ‘I want to pay for how­ever many re­pairs this will buy.’ She had ac­tu­ally paid for seven peo­ple to get their flat tires fixed.”

A year later, af­ter the lo­cal news ran a story on what Tuerff and his em­ploy­ees were do­ing, Tuerff got an emo­tional voice­mail.

“A man had called. He said, ‘What you’re do­ing is re­mark­able. I was hav­ing a bad day, a ter­ri­ble day, I had a flat tire and some­body paid for it. It re­ally changed my life,’” Tuerff says. “I couldn’t be­lieve it. You know what that cost? $7. And it made a dif­fer­ence in that guy’s life. It made a dif­fer­ence in the lives of our staff, too.”

Tuerff made the project an an­nual event, and es­tab­lished a move­ment, Pay It For­ward 9-11, to en­cour­age oth­ers to do the same, not only on the an­niver­sary of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks, but ev­ery day. He has writ­ten a book, “Chan­nel of Peace: Stranded in Gan­der on 9-11,” and in it he de­tails not only his ex­pe­ri­ence in Gan­der, but the ways he has turned the 9-11 tragedy into some­thing pos­i­tive, with the goal of get­ting oth­ers to do the same.

Tuerff was back in New­found­land last month, where he crossed the is­land on a book tour and gave pre­sen­ta­tions on the value of be­ing kind to strangers. A num­ber of com­mu­nity groups, schools and churches as well as in­di­vid­u­als pledged to join the Pay It For­ward 9-11 move­ment and un­der­take ac­tiv­i­ties and acts of kind­ness to­day.

Acts of kind­ness needn’t be ex­pen­sive or ex­trav­a­gant, says Tuerff, who now lives in New York but was back in Texas over the past cou­ple weeks, as­sist­ing with re­lief ef­forts af­ter the flood­ing there.

“There are sim­ple things that some peo­ple may do all the time,” he ex­plains. “Maybe let­ting some­one cut in front of them in traf­fic or open­ing a door for some­one. If you want to truly make a hu­man con­nec­tion, try buy­ing a cup of cof­fee for the per­son wait­ing be­hind you in line or maybe anony­mously pick­ing up the tab for some­one’s break­fast.

“Let’s not let the ter­ror­ists own the day by talk­ing about and show­ing images of ter­ror again. Let’s make it a day of hope and ser­vice and help­ing oth­ers.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO COUR­TESY OF KEVIN TUERFF

Kevin Tuerff has re­turned to Gan­der many times since 9-11, and de­lights in giv­ing back to lo­cal res­i­dents with small acts of kind­ness. Last month he was in town and helped serve break­fast to res­i­dents as part of Gan­der Day cel­e­bra­tions.

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