A Judge Who Bore Witness
Father Mychal F. Judge is officially listed as Victim 0001 of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Judge was a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest who, in 1992, was appointed Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. On that terrible morning in 2001, Judge arrived on the scene, comforting those who were working heroically in the rescue efforts. He administered last rites to many of the victims. But when the South Tower collapsed, and the debris filled the lobby of the North Tower, Judge became one of those victims.
Many remember that photo of the departed Father Judge, whose body was recovered from the Pit. A lifeless pose that resembled a modern American Pieta.
On Tuesday, I posted the newest installment of my annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," a portrait of firefighter Eddie Mecner. Today, I'd like to remember the efforts of Father Judge.
Last week, the New York Daily News published an excerpt from a new book about Father Judge, written by News correspondent Michael Daly. The book is entitled The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge. Daly reminds us that, before his death, Judge bore witness to some of the most horrific images in our city's history. Daly writes:
He and the firefighters around him were witnessing an elemental law of nature by which a falling object accelerates at 32 feet per second minus the particular air resistance, be the object a lead weight dropped by Galileo from the Tower of Pisa or a human being leaping from the upper floors of One World Trade Center.
Male or female, young or old, healthy or ill, urban or suburban, black or white or Hispanic or Asian, married or single, parent or childless, straight or gay, rich or poor, generous or miserly, kind or cruel, fierce or meek, virtuous or sinful, dreamy or practical, toned or flabby, Christian or Jew or Muslim or Hindu, all fell at the same ever increasing rate. The only variations were density and surface area. Mundane business papers wafted gently down, but even the most decent person was soon plummeting at nearly 150 miles per hour.
Those who leapt from the topmost floors of the North Tower fell for as long as nine seconds. The people on the floors closest to where the plane actually hit had maybe seven seconds, still time to think of loved ones and pray to their particular notion of the Almighty. A Roman Catholic, for example, would have been able to say a Hail Mary, but not an entire Act of Contrition.
Everybody had time to utter "Oh, God!" or "God, no!" or some another plea even nonbelievers cry at the onrush of death. All likely remained as keenly conscious as skydivers.
Some jumped together, holding hands. Most leapt one at a time, often tumbling as they fell. At least one man stayed feet first, his red and blue tie streaming above him. But most were on their backs as they reached the lower floors, facing the heavens if not necessarily heaven. Their last sight was of the perfect baby blue sky as they struck the pavement with a velocity that instantly turned a living person into a bright red splatter. The sound was jarring, loud, a body becoming a bomb.
As has been observed before, it is hard to fathom the awful conditions faced by those in the Towers, such that jumping was the better alternative.
There is so much politics that surrounds this date: The politics of the Middle East. The politics of US foreign policy. The context that these colliding forces provided as the backdrop for the events that were to transpire. And the tragic human consequences that have followed in its wake. Notablog readers know well my own views on many of these issues.
For those of us who lost friends and neighbors on this horrific date, however, there will always be the act of remembrance. It is a defiant act insofar as it compels us to comprehend causes and consequences. But it is also an act of honor toward Father Judge, and those like him, who went to their deaths seven years ago on this date.