Beauty on Broadway

Fair spouse and I recently returned from a trip to New York City to enjoy our middle son performing at a Theater District cabaret. (We couldn’t get him to be quiet at home and now we have to pay a hundred bucks each for the privilege of listening to him, etc.)

We also had time to tour a little, and we were struck again by the superabundance of beauty that blesses that little corner of the world. Central Park—from its thick northern wildness to its meticulous southern cultivation. The High Line—abandoned railway track turned into a sweet green space literally above the urban fray. The Met and the Frick and MOMA and the rest of New York’s astounding homes for astounding art.

The beauty is everywhere. Look up and around! Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building (I’m still deciding about the Whitney)—fabulous edifices above fabulous stores offering fabulous clothes and jewelry and foods. Even the outwardly humdrum Garment District is beauty-full, where my life partner insists we go for her to procure, like a trader of old, fine fabrics unavailable in our benighted homeland.

We happened to visit New York this year at the end of Pride Month. And the climax of World Pride celebrations was held this year, yes, in New York City, on Times Square. Lucky us: our hotel was just off Times Square, selected to be close to where our son was to perform.

Well, there was beauty on display in Times Square, too. Pride has apparently become a generic “license to display,” whatever your sexual and gender affirmations, and there were beautiful bodies on display. Everywhere one looked, and everywhere one tried to look away, too.

That not being our scene, we took refuge in attending a couple of shows. And in one of them I saw beauty of an entirely different order, beauty that literally moved me to tears. I’m not kidding: I got weepy from about the fifth minute and I went through a pocketful of Kleenex over the next hour. What dissolved this Gibraltar of a man into a tiny, salty puddle?

Come from Away,” the musical telling of that awful day in Gander, Newfoundland, when 38 jets were diverted to avoid the closed American airspace on 9/11 and almost 7000 people suddenly needed help from this tiny town.

Over the 90 minutes of the play, Kari and I saw beauty beyond anything I saw during our several intense days in New York City.

Not that the actors were particularly striking: lovely voices, yes, but physically well below the normal bar for high-level roles. No, what we saw and heard and felt was the beauty of goodness. Ordinary people—instantly recognizable to us Canadians, of course, who normally started their day at the local Tim Hortons—who did ordinary things at an extraordinary scale with an extraordinary willingness: feeding, clothing, washing, entertaining, reassuring, and in every way just . . . welcoming.

Here was the beautiful heroism of hospitality.

Viewing this poignant presentation of Canadians caring for the world this past weekend—the day before Canada Day, and in New York City itself—struck us to the heart. Yes, the acting was superb, the sets impressive in their simplicity, the music top-notch, and the flow overwhelming. (The play, amid all the extravagant pyrotechnics of today’s theater landscape, yet won the Tony for best direction). But what moved us most was not any particular song or dialogue, no particular heroic or pathetic character, and certainly not any patriotism about a particular country.

For lots of Broadway hits are better than anything we heard in that show. Lots of characters stick in the mind longer. And there was nothing those Newfoundlanders did that I think wouldn’t have been done by the people I’ve lived among in rural Iowa or west Texas.

What “Come from Away” put before us was what God knows is possible—not just in Gander, but in New York City, and Berlin, and Nairobi, and Kandahar, and Mosul. “Come from Away” testifies that the initial promise of the Garden of Eden and the eventual promise of the New Jerusalem are true. Someday, everywhere and always will be like Gander, Newfoundland, was for those brief few days: a place suffused with the beauty of love.

I like visiting New York. But I want to live on the Rock—as it was then, and as it all will one day be forever.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).