Enjoy this excerpt from our new book, Healthy Leadership.

After hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of flights around the world were forced to land at airports that weren’t their intended destinations. A whopping thirty-eight of these rerouted planes touched down in the small town of Gander, on the Canadian island of Newfoundland.

In a matter of hours, the 10,000-person population of Gander increased by more than half with the arrival of over 6,500 “come from aways,” as locals refer to outsiders. But the townspeople chose not to treat the passengers as outsiders. Instead, in a tremendous showing of hospitality, they treated them like new neighbors in need of care and leapt into action.

They opened their homes and schools for the disoriented passengers and provided them with food and places to sleep. Local pharmacists made calls all over the world to make sure the new arrivals got their medications. But they didn’t stop there.

They also wanted to get to know their guests and have a good time with them. Townspeople organized excursions into nature—after all, why go to Canada if you can’t see a moose? They held musical events and huge barbecue cookouts. And most generous of all, they didn’t expect anything in return.

After five days, the unplanned social experiment that took form in Gander came to an end when the last of the diverted planes took off. Yet the passengers wanted to return the town’s kindness. And indeed, they did, leaving $60,000 in Gander’s local suggestion box.

Lifelong bonds were created in Gander the week after Sept. 11. A decade later, hundreds of stranded “plane people” returned to Gander to commemorate the anniversary, remember the tragedy, and visit the friends they had made.

In one case, a British man and a Texan woman met, fell in love, and got married after their return. Among those present at the 10th anniversary were Irene Sakoff and David Hein, a couple with a growing list of plays to their name. They spent the anniversary interviewing many of the Gander residents and plane people.

Those interviews became the basis of the hit Broadway musical, Come From Away. Several of the plane people set up a scholarship fund for local students to which over two million dollars has been donated.

What this strange and wonderful incident left behind is a stunning example of kindness and generosity, but also something else: The human desire to connect with others, and the incredible power of such connections.

Healthy Leadership Book