On 9/11/01, while I was sitting safely in my home watching CNN and thinking to myself, “how horrible” and “this can’t be happening”, Father Mychal Judge was already on his way to the Twin Towers with a group of firefighters. While others ran away, desperately trying to put as much distance between them and the doomed buildings, Father Judge made his way directly to the towers, where the firefighters he had ministered to, and cared so much for, were fighting their way into the buildings and were already beginning to die.
Almost immediately Father Judge found his way to a fallen firefighter who had been struck by a falling human body from the towers above, and knelt beside him to give the last rights. He then ran into the Lobby of the Tower 1 trying to help direct others out of and away from the building. He would die there moments later as debris from the collapse of Tower 2 would be blown into the Tower 1 lobby.
I still remember seeing the picture on the TV as a group of firefighters carried Father Judge’s body away, and even now that picture represents all of the deaths that occurred that day because it is the one image that I remember with clarity. A fallen American, lovingly carried by other Americans away from the WTC site. It was an image that would be sorrowfully repeated so many times later, as other brave hero’s of the NYFD and other uniformed services would be slowly found, and removed over the next months. Still, when I think of the heartbreak of 9/11, Father Judge being carried away by those he spent his life ministering to in times of need, is the image that I return to.
Father Judge’s story is one of triumph over adversity. If you have never taken the time to read about Father Mychal Judge, visit http://www.saintmychal.com/life01.htm . Father Judge was a gay man by orientation, and spent much of his earlier time helping those stricken with AIDS at a time when most people didn’t even want to be near them. He understood the conflicts that gay and lesbian Americans deal with in their personal and professional lives, and yet his sexual orientation didn’t define him, just as it should not be used to define us.
His death certificate lists him as victim #00001 of the World Trade Center attacks.