How 9/11 Changed Us: Mychal Judge

We’re nearing the 10 year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  I know that it’s hard for many of us to grasp that an entire decade has passed since we stood frozen in front of TVs, watching the horrible events happen over and over on relentless news clips.  When I asked my students last year if they remembered where they were when the attacks happened, I was shocked when a couple answered, “Yeah, but it’s kind of hazy.  I was only 8.”  Even more significantly, my youngest brother was born in a post-9/11 world.  Just as many of my generation will never know what it was like two live during the Cold War, when the geo-political order of the world was one of two super-powers at opposite poles, my brother will never know a world in which we’re not encouraged to live in constant fear, and where the one sole superpower takes a drastic step and implements a policy of preemptive warfare as a defense.   

…But enough of my own blabbing.  The main thing that I wanted to share is a USA Today article that offers an interesting perspective on the look back at the past ten years.  It tells the story of the last decade through the lens of about 15 individuals.  For the next five days I will post one of those stories.  

The first that I would like to share is fittingly enough about Victim 0001.

HOW 9/11 CHANGED US:  PERSON BY PERSON

By Rick Hampton and Martha T. Moore, USA Today

The terrorist attack on America 10 years ago is one of the few events in U.S. history big enough to claim its date as its name. But Sept. 11, 2001, did not change the nation as abruptly as Dec. 7, 1941, or as dramatically as July 4, 1776. This time, there was no declaration of war or independence, just a warning that if we altered our ways, the terrorists would have won.

And so we entered a new era slowly, incrementally. Day by day. Person by person.

A decade later, we can see the changes in our nation by looking at the changes in our people — some who were close to the cataclysm, some far from it.

What follows are the stories of 20 such Americans. They suggest 9/11 was like a rock thrown in a pond, its impact rippling out until all the water is roiled.

Told as a series of snapshots in time, these 20 stories form a pointillist narrative of how America got from then to now, through invasion and investigation, reconstruction, rehabilitation and revival, tightening security at home and constant warfare abroad.

In their tales, we hear an echo of our own concerns about the next terrorist attack, the struggle between liberty and security, the pat-down at the gate.

When the stories begin on 9/11, two of the subjects are still in high school. Another, in his sixth decade, is carried dead from the World Trade Center. In the years that follow, we come to understand a bit of the orphan’s grief, the warrior’s courage, the priest’s faith, the convert’s curiosity, the zealot’s recklessness.

We go on a widow’s first date and share a bereft couple’s surprise that, against all odds, they have something to bury of a lost son.

We learn what motivated the first American to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the Afghanistan War, how a fireman who survived Ground Zero enlisted to fight in Iraq and what happened once he got there.

A daughter, in losing her mother, discovers her true calling. One mother fights to clear her son’s name; another discovers that hers was the mysterious “man in the red bandanna” who led fellow office workers to safety at the Trade Center.

The ripples of 9/11 spread far from where the four hijacked planes crashed in New York City and Arlington, Va., and near Shanksville, Pa. They affect the post of poet laureate of the state of New Jersey; the right of a public worker to burn a sacred book; and possibly even the movement to legalize gay marriage.

A photo of a spontaneous hug helps decide the 2004 presidential election. A former captive of Muslim terrorists in a distant land lives to see most of her captors destroyed — and to help some of those who survived.

In such a decade, plans often come to naught. A patriotic teenager who wants to learn more about his nation’s attackers ends up accepting their religion. A young woman, moved by 9/11 to enlist in the Army and discover herself, suffers debilitating wounds that make her wonder who she really is.

A Pentagon worker looking forward to an active retirement is so seriously burned that she can neither climb stairs nor lift her 12-pound bowling ball.

This is what it was like in the decade after Sept. 11, the date claimed by catastrophe, the door from then to now.

The Rev. Mychal Judge: Victim 0001

A photographer documents firemen carrying the Rev. Mychal Judge’s body from Ground Zero on 9/11, producing an image that some will call an American Pietà. In death, Judge’s legend grows, new facets of his life emerge, and some call him a saint.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: The Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and New York Fire Department chaplain, rushes to the World Trade Center, where he dies amid falling debris after administrating last rites to a fallen firefighter. He’s listed as Victim 0001, the first recorded fatality in the attacks. A photographer snaps a shot of ash-covered firemen carrying the priest’s body from the wreckage, producing what will prove to be one of the tragedy’s most enduring images.

9.15.2001: Judge’s funeral is held at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi , across the street from a firehouse that lost seven firefighters. Mayor Rudy Giuliani calls Judge a saint. The eulogist, the Rev. Michael Duffy, says Judge used to tell him to ask him what he needed. When Duffy did, he’d reply, “Absolutely nothing. … I am the happiest man on the face of the Earth.”

11.12.2001:New York magazine reports that Judge was gay, although apparently — as a Roman Catholic priest — celibate. New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says, “I actually knew about his homosexuality when I was in the Uniformed Firefighters Association. I kept the secret, but then he told me when I became commissioner five years ago. He and I often laughed about it, because we knew how difficult it would have been for the other firefighters to accept it as easily as I had. I just thought he was a phenomenal, warm, sincere man, and the fact that he was gay just had nothing to do with anything.”

3.16.2002: Judge is grand marshal of the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the first time the honor has been bestowed posthumously. When the lead float honoring Judge arrives at the reviewing stand, President Bush and Mayor Richard Daley stand at attention as a bagpipe band plays Amazing Grace. The crowd then chants, “USA, USA!”

4.15.2002: Burt Kearns, a former tabloid TV producer for A Current Affair and Hard Copy, created a website to advocate for the canonization of Judge. “He died a martyr,” Kearns says. “Everyone I talk to thinks he’s a saint.”

4.26.2002: Speaking at St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York, a leader of the Franciscan religious community criticizes the “rush to canonize” Judge. The Rev.John Felice, who accepts a medal awarded to Judge, says: “There is a rush to canonize Mychal these days, and I think it is a mistake. In making saints out of people, we often shove them away from our experience and place them on a pedestal. He was a very human, flawed, complex person, just like the rest of us. His real legacy is to teach us that such is the stuff of greatness.”

6.26.2002: President Bush signs The Mychal Judge Act, marking the first time the federal government has extended equal benefits for same-sex couples. It allows domestic partners of fire and police force members, including chaplains, who are killed in the line of duty to collect their federal death benefit.

2.20.2003: The father of an autistic child says the boy’s condition improved after his parents prayed to Judge. Scott Brown says his 4-year-old son, Matthew, did not speak well, wouldn’t respond to certain noises and could hardly look people in the eye. After the family prayed to Judge that God loosen Matt’s tongue, “the positive outcome … was almost instantaneous,” says Brown, a Newport, R.I., firefighter. “For someone who was so silent and would never make eye contact with you, he’s like a different child. … I can’t help but to say that it is miraculous.”

2.24.2003: Critics of a gay-organized St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens object to organizers claiming Judge as one of their own. Pat Hurley, a Queens resident, tellsNewsday, “I knew a lot of people that knew Father Mychal Judge and they never saw any inkling of his being gay.” Judge was a member of Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics that is not recognized by the church hierarchy.

4.17.2006: The documentary Saint of 9/11, narrated by actor Ian McKellen, premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The subject is Judge. The film begins with an interview in which Judge said, “You wonder what your last hour of life could be. Will I be doing something for someone, trying to save a life?” Shortly before he was killed, Judge administered the church’s last rites to a firefighter. A fellow Franciscan says, “This is how Mychal would have prayed to have the last minutes of his life transpire.”

9.2.2008: A new biography of Judge says he did not reveal his homosexual orientation to firefighters because he felt he had to be whom they needed him to be. “The very fact he could inspire them to believe (in Christ) caused him to fear that if he broke that spell (by revealing his sexual orientation) they would feel betrayed and lose their faith,” writes author Michael Daly, a friend of Judge’s. The book says that in his later years, Judge had a romantic relationship with a male Filipino nurse 30 years his junior. The book also describes Judge’s tense relationship with, and disdain for, New York Cardinal John O’Connor.

4.15.2009: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his first homily after assuming office, mentions Judge in the same sentence as two American saints, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Frances Xavier Cabrini. He says that Christ is alive in the church’s “consecrated religious women and men,” such as Seton, Cabrini and Judge.

5.11.2011: Judge’s 78th birthday. His resting place at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Totowa, N.J., has only a simple horizontal marker, but the grave site stands out from the others in the Franciscan order’s plot. It’s adorned with figurines of fat friars and firemen; rosary beads; flowers real and artificial; and various pins, including one that reads, “Brothers in Faith Shall Do Great Deeds.” The plot is near the cemetery gate on Union Avenue. Less than a mile away, at 486 Union, is the apartment where two of the 9/11 hijackers lived. Their visitors included Mohammed Atta, who piloted a jetliner into the north tower, where Judge died.

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