One bright morning when my work is over, man will fly away home…

Image: DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

When you are 93, if you have lived a full life, death can be an old friend, like one of those distant relatives you met as a child and who pops in to visit with somewhat rhythmic regularity throughout your existence. She’s something of a constant – grey haired now, with bifocals, but still wearing that unfortunate green cardigan and that odd air that leads to so many uncomfortable pauses when she stays for tea. She always attends funerals, but occasionally comes at Christmas, clutching a bottle of cheap sparkling red, or sometimes in the dead of night.

As an old friend, she’s not that scary anymore. Your interactions with her are generally quite civil, as most of your gripes with her are in the past, smoothed over and forgotten like the time Aunty Ethel took Mother’s diamond earrings while the old dear was on her deathbed or what Uncle Frank said about Ethel at the funeral afterwards. You know that someday soon she will ring the doorbell, grinning that toothy grin she grins at times like these, and if you are lucky she will be kind and it won’t hurt very much.

But sometimes death is a spiteful bitch, and she shows up one September day at the office or on the plane you caught that morning, or you see her on a bus in London or at a nightclub in Kuta or on a desert battlefield somewhere, or she drops into your daughter’s wedding somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan and, as death is wont to do, she wipes out young lives, old lives, lives fraught with promise, with one twitch of her hand, and every life lost a tragedy.

You’d think that, at 93, and as a lover of words, I’d know what to say on days like this. However, it’s about this point in the proceedings that such facility with words as I have deserts me, so I will just point you to the story of one man killed ten years ago today, who seems to me to have had the right idea.

When planes hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Father Mychal Judge ran into the North Tower alongside the firemen he served. Not long after, he became the first recorded victim of the terrorist attacks.

But 10 years later, his friends and colleagues remember Judge as vividly in death as they knew him in life: a gregarious, irreverent man wholly devoted to God, whom many considered a saint, in large part because of his own personal struggles.

Judge was also a celibate gay man in the priesthood, a fact he revealed only to a select few. Brendan Fay, a gay activist who co-produced The Saint of 9/11, a documentary about Mychal Judge, says the chaplain’s struggles drew people to him.

“Mychal sort of weaved his way in and out of groups that wouldn’t be caught near each other,” Fay says.

Republican Mayor Rudi Giuliani and Democratic Mayor David Dinkins; conservative and liberal Catholics; stock brokers and street people — all claimed him as a friend. One reason, Fay says, is that even in the dark hour, Judge could make life a celebration.

“His mother always reminded him, ‘You can’t go wrong with a song. When you don’t know what to do, sing,'” Fay says.

Judge was famous for his rendition of the murder ballad, “Frankie and Johnny,” which he sang at birthday parties. He once sang “God Bless America” at the funeral of a gay man in the middle of the AIDS epidemic.

———————

Top Image: Jill Colvin, DNAinfo:

Bryant Park’s normally bustling lawn was transformed into a solemn memorial Friday ahead of the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Midtown office workers looking for a place to soak up the sun instead found the lawn lined with 2,753 empty chairs facing south toward the fallen towers — one to honor each person who died in the attacks.

Bottom image: Holy Name Province Franciscans

H/t: Towleroad for both articles.






46 replies
  1. 1
    Elizabelle says:

    Eloquent post, Sarah.

    The Bryant Park tribute is moving, and it’s always a pleasure to think about Mychal Judge. A truly good man.

    Like the photos of the young women with vintage typewriters, typing up park visitors’ comments, in the link to the Bryant Park story. What a great idea.

    Volunteers with vintage black typewriters began collecting answers to the question, “What would you like the world to remember about 9/11?”
    The answers, which are being typed on small sheets of white paper, will be used in an exhibition that will travel to colleges throughout the country,

    Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/2011091.....z1Xd4811P1

  2. 2
    Elizabelle says:

    New York magazine article about Mychal Judge.

    http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/.....ures/5372/

  3. 3
    Amir Khalid says:

    I’ve always wondered if this verse from The Rising was a reference to him:

    Left the house this morning
    Bells ringing filled the air
    Wearin’ the cross of my calling
    On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here

  4. 4
    Ecks says:

    A love of words, the gift of gab, and a sweet gentle touch of insight. This made my morning.

  5. 5
    Raven (formerly stuckinred) says:

    I’ve always been partial to the story of Rick Rescorla, Security Chief of Morgan Stanley. He was the young officer on the original cover of “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young”. There is no telling how many people he saved before he was killed going back up to save more.

    eta I have the book and seen the specials but didn’t know about the opera

  6. 6
    geg6 says:

    I want to remember all those who died that day, especially my two friends, and all the hundreds of innocent others who died as a result. RIP.

    And may Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their minions never have a moment’s peace as long as they live for besmirching the memory of the 9/11 victims by murdering those hundreds of thousands others.

  7. 7

    There are two kinds of heroes:
    A person who goes into a dangerous situation even though he has no idea what he’s doing and a person who does the same thing even though he does (and knows all of the things that can go wrong).

    As a priest who worked with fire fighters Father Judge was both.

  8. 8
    Donut says:

    Monkey killing monkey killing monkey
    over pieces of the ground.
    Silly monkeys,
    give them thumbs they make a club
    and beat their brother down.

    How they survive so misguided is a mystery.
    Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability
    to live tonight in heaven,
    conscious of his fleeting time here.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Beautiful post, Sarah. Thank you.

  11. 11
    Svensker says:

    As someone who was in the area and knew 5 families who lost people I just hate this day and all the remembering. A dignified and quiet memorial for the people who died is fine and necessary. But I really don’t want to remember that day. It was horrible. Seeing the images and hearing about it just dredges up stuff that I’d rather leave buried.

    Anyone else feel that way?

    Guess I’ll be mostly off the internet and TV today. Except for the Jets game which of course will be filled with super patriot fascist crap because in order to “honor” people who died you have to show off how many furriners you can kill with big machines.

  12. 12
    Cermet says:

    Very good- death meets us all at some point and more people need to remember that their lives will touch others only for a short time and this is our only after life ‘tribute’. So, try and live as you want people to remember you … . Ok, here on BJ we are better remembered as be SOB’s but otherwise … .

  13. 13
    harlana says:

    Of course we all remember where we were that day. I was at my old law firm and one of our partners, who was also my republican rep at the time, was standing next to me. He was an extremely nice, pleasant guy, what one might consider a “moderate” republican. He put his head in his hand and rubbed his brow in distress and sorrow while I just sorta stood there as a bunch of us watched the teevee in the conference room. He recently got kicked out of office by a teabagger because he was too sane for us, apparently.

    Then, downstairs in the bank, some woman started singing God Bless America all over the place.

    And then, it seems, we invaded Iraq and it was at that point I began to lose my mind.

  14. 14
    harlana says:

    i know we’re not talking about Iraq exactly here, but it was the unexpected aftermath of 911. It completely blows my mind now, in these teevee retrospectives (which I have avoided for the most part), all these “reasonable” voices, “experts,” people from the CIA, politicians, all saying, now, basically the same thing I said back then, about the cost of blood and treasure and how it was not only not worth it, but completely unnecessary. Everybody, I mean everybody but Dick Cheney.

    Just, wow.

    I tried so hard to convince people that this was a horrible, tragic mistake – i looked into the future and saw incalculable devastation for our country and even more so for Iraq. I campaigned like a mofo for my anti-war candidate, something I’d never done before, I had never been active in politics. Everyone thought I was the biggest damned fool and they all knew I was basically crazy by that point and just sort of tolerated me and occasionally told me to STFU because I was harshing everybody’s war buzz, I guess. I look back and think what a fool and an embarrassment to myself I was – I actually believed in my heart of hearts that something could be done, and that we, as a nation, were better than this.

    But no one would listen, even my few Dem friends. They didn’t care. Everybody just wanted to go shopping. And me, I died a little every day. And now, now we got nothing to go shopping with.

  15. 15
    R. Porrofatto says:

    @Svensker:
    I’m a New Yorker and I agree with you about a “dignified and quiet memorial.” But I have no problem with memories being dredged up — we forget too much, IMO. Like how “The system was blinking red” that summer and the Bush administration was warned repeatedly of hijackings, yet no one told the pilots that day. Or that the only weapons at the terrorists disposal were commercial airliners, and this was the absolute worst that they could do. Or that $3 trillion dollars worth of pointless war and security theater, and hundreds of thousands dead in the longest wars in our history, and al Queda still doesn’t have the weapons or military capability of even the smallest industrialized country. And so on.

  16. 16
    debbie says:

    Svensker, as an ex-NYCer, I understand your feelings, but remembering is one way to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

    Last night, I re-watched Frontline’s “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” If you believe there’s more to this day than politics and patriotism, then you will find much to think about when watching it.

  17. 17
    harlana says:

    And yes, that is the true legacy of 911, not just this national self-flagellation and weeping by people who were in no way connected to the folks that died horrible deaths that day and don’t even live in the regions where 911 happened. But everyone has to be a victim, right? Even those stalwart righties.

    We can build memorials and such, but that is the true legacy, more death of innocents, more blood and devastation.

    I guess we had to just become completely economically broken as a nation before we decide we can no longer afford to send our own people to their deaths and to torture and kill innocent people for years. The only problem we really have is that it’s too expensive to do this now and the public has maxed out on fear.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    harlana says:

    And may I just say, in closing, that I in no way mean to denigrate the tragedy of that day, only our response to it as a nation. If we are to honor the victims of 911, it would be constructive to think about whether or not we will allow ourselves to be manipulated into another pointless war, which in no way honors the victims and is, in fact, an abomination.

  20. 20
    Hawes says:

    I’m watching the reading of names at Ground Zero.

    And I start crying.

    Ten years.

    My youngest son walks in and asked what was going on. He’s very bright, very empathetic. But luckily he can’t feel this.

    My students don’t feel it as much either. It was a scary moment, I guess for the 4 to 8 year olds. But that immediate, confusing, angry, visceral pain doesn’t belong to them.

    I hope nothing like it ever will.

  21. 21
    honus says:

    @Svensker: That’s exactly what I told somebody last week. I don’t want to “commemorate” 9/11 or really to remember what was a very bad day. And also partly because remembering 9/11 was and can be used to justify more violence.

  22. 22
    JPL says:

    Thank you Sarah for a beautiful post. I think the ceremony in NYC was meant for the family. By keeping it closed to the public, Bloomberg gave the family a chance to remember in their own way. I had planned to work outside this morning instead I’m listening to the reading of the names while wiping tears from my eyes.

  23. 23
    Leeds man says:

    @R. Porrofatto:

    Obviously, what we need are bigger lawns.

    As ever, la phrase juste, RP.

  24. 24
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Svensker: Doonesbury’s got your back, Svensker.

    I find in general terms that the closer people actually were to it that day, the less interested they are in these sorts of things, because — well, like BD said.

    As a side note to “Sarah Proud and Tall”, you know, my mother is 93. It’s quite something, as I’m sure you have an inkling, and watching her go through what it’s like to be that age is fascinating, difficult, emotional, it’s all sorts of things. One thing it’s not is cute, or funny– well okay it’s funny sometimes– anyway it’s entirely possible this is only me but I actually find it jarring to the point of– well jarring let’s just say, to read someone who is claiming to be 93 partly as a sort of literary device but mostly, it seems to me anyway, as a joke.

    Could certainly just be me as I say; I find about 50% of this blog these days to range from ridiculous to offensive. Which is too bad because I used to sort of like it.

  25. 25
    Ash Can says:

    @Svensker: I’m with you, and, as Bill E Pilgrim notes, BD as well. I’m finding that ten years isn’t long enough yet to make me comfortable with reminiscing.

  26. 26
    cmorenc says:

    @harlana:

    I guess we had to just become completely economically broken as a nation before we decide we can no longer afford to send our own people to their deaths and to torture and kill innocent people for years.

    The single most potent thing politically that could be done to inhibit future militaristic misadventures is to re-institute the military draft, while making it as difficult as possible for more affluent, better-connected kids to sidestep the dirty, dangerous, less glamorous roles. What eventually turned the public on Vietnam was less the anti-war protests than the growing sense among ordinary folks that their sons’ lives were being senselessly wasted or at best (even among many who found ways to escape being anywhere remotely near combat or even military service), undesirably distorted and diverted by what they had to do instead to escape the war. Although this dynamic is slowly taking hold even without a draft wrt Afghanistan, the dynamic is nonetheless much weaker and slower than it would be with a forced draft, because the vast majority of families feel no personal impact from that misadventure.

  27. 27
    huckster says:

    @harlana: I don’t think you’ve denigrated it at all. In fact I find all of your words to be thoughtful, and empathetic.

    Sadly, “we will never forget” has become as empty and pointless a statement as “Support our troops.” Just something to post on your Facebook page before the game starts.

  28. 28
    suzanne says:

    I linked to this on my Facebook on Friday. It’s the homily read at Fr. Judge’s funeral.

    I’ve been thinking about Christina Taylor Green today, as this would have been her 10th birthday. Coincidentally, on the morning of 9/11/01, I was just around the corner from where she died in Tucson.

    Now, for me, as a native New Yorker who lives in Arizona, 9/11 and the Giffords shooting are now inextricably tied together. And I just can’t help thinking how much we’ve lost… not just people and stuff.

  29. 29
    suzanne says:

    I linked to this on my Facebook on Friday. It’s the homily read at Fr. Judge’s funeral.

    I’ve been thinking about Christina Taylor Green today, as this would have been her 10th birthday. Coincidentally, on the morning of 9/11/01, I was just around the corner from where she died in Tucson.

    Now, for me, as a native New Yorker who lives in Arizona, 9/11 and the Giffords shooting are now inextricably tied together. And I just can’t help thinking how much we’ve lost… not just people and stuff.

  30. 30
    phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim: Thanks for linking to the Doonesbury cartoon. It was something I’ll think about for a long time.

    And, “Sarah”, thanks for the beautiful post.

  31. 31
    iriedc says:

    All of my family members and close friends who worked in the Towers were either on leave, running late, or got out. They all lost colleagues, friends and a building they were proud to work in. I was in the hotel closest to the Pentagon and the sound of the crash and sight of the evacuation is an experience that never quite leaves the back of someone’s mind. I’m quietly counting my blessings today. Like anyone I have many mixed emotions about the day and its consequences for those here and abroad. I won’t watch or listen to the memorials (busy with young kids & celebrating a friend’s birthday), but I’d like to thank the FPer and commenters for this post.

  32. 32
    eemom says:

    I asked this question on a friend’s FB page the other day: do all the memorials and commemorations on this day provide any comfort to the families of those lost?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but if it is yes, then anyone else out there who doesn’t like it needs to quietly turn off their teevee and respectfully stfu.

  33. 33
    karen marie says:

    @Svensker: I’m with you, Svensker, minus the football.

  34. 34
    Exurban Mom says:

    My chief memory of that day is holding my 9 month old baby on my lap and thinking that the world she was to grow up in would be different than the world I knew. It was a horrible day for our country, made worse by the Iraq war as some sort of response to the tragedy.

    My now 10 year old daughter gives me so much hope for the future. If there are other kids who are half as empathetic, caring, and sweet as my precious little girl, we’ll be okay.

  35. 35
    scav says:

    I think a part of the problem with the “remembering” and memorializing going on right now is so much of it is just over the top navel-gazing, some of it obsessively from the interior perspective. More about what “happened” to (the generic ‘mercan) me-me-me rather than what happened to those that died and actually lost family members and friends, let alone the impact it had on other nations and the people there. So much of this seems to be a made-for-media Hallmark event that the hairs on the back of my neck are up and I’m with the crowd heading for the media-blackout for a bit.

  36. 36
    eemom says:

    @Raven (formerly stuckinred):

    and Rescorla had previously led people to safety in the 1993 attacks. I found the account of his widow, about waiting for him to come home that 9/11 night, most painful.

    With respect to Father Judge, the 9/11 photo gallery posted at Life magazine includes a heartbreaking image of his body being carried out by rescue workers, and another of a fireman tearfully saluting at his funeral.

  37. 37
    Elizabelle says:

    @suzanne:

    So true.

  38. 38
    Davis X. Machina says:

    As a Latinist, it pains me to know that ‘vice’, ‘vicious’ and ‘vicarious’ aren’t actually related. Because they ought to be.

    Hello, America? If you were hurt, personally, on that day, like iredc, I am sorry for your trouble. Everyone else needs to shut up.

    I prefer to think upon what a great man said on another sad day:

    We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder…..

    Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

  39. 39
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Davis X. Machina: (Both paragraphs, are of course, Bobby Kennedy’s. WordPress……)

  40. 40
    B W Smith says:

    @Davis X. Machina: One of my favorite speeches of all time. I have returned to it on many occasions. I believe this speech was extemporaneous and truly from his heart.

    I offer my sincere condolences to anyone who lost a loved one or suffered personally on that day. For anyone who has used that day to perpetuate their own agendas or for personal gain, I have nothing but contempt.

    As Kennedy said, we will face tragedy again. My deepest hope and desire is that as a country, we have learned some perspective.

  41. 41

    This is beautiful, Ms. Sarah. A perfect remembrance.

  42. 42
    Death Panel Truck says:

    Nice writing for a 93-year old. You must have been superb in your prime. ;)

  43. 43
    W. Kiernan says:

    I would like people to remember that in 1985 Ronald Reagan described the mob of bloodthirsty Islamic fundamentalists who were butchering their way across Afghanistan as “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.” By this, you should understand, he did not mean the Founding Fathers of Hell, but the Founding Fathers of the United States of America – you know, Washington and Adams and Madison and Jefferson, that lot. And I would also like people to remember that Mr. Reagan had William Casey shove five billion of our taxpayers’s dollars into their hands, along with a few thousand Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

    I realize that it is in very poor taste for me to interrupt the flood of sentimentality with these unpleasant facts, but it’s by ignoring yesterday’s unpleasant facts that we guarantee there will be a bumper crop of new unpleasant facts come next harvest time.

  44. 44
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    Paul Krugman:

    September 11, 2011, 8:41 am
    The Years of Shame
    Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued?

    Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.

    What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. Te atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

    A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

    The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

    I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons.

  45. 45
    fuckwit says:

    Are you seriously 93 years old? Wow. That’s pretty amazing right there. Thanks for sharing.

  46. 46

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    As a side note to “Sarah Proud and Tall”, you know, my mother is 93. It’s quite something, as I’m sure you have an inkling, and watching her go through what it’s like to be that age is fascinating, difficult, emotional, it’s all sorts of things. One thing it’s not is cute, or funny—well okay it’s funny sometimes—anyway it’s entirely possible this is only me but I actually find it jarring to the point of—well jarring let’s just say, to read someone who is claiming to be 93 partly as a sort of literary device but mostly, it seems to me anyway, as a joke.
    __
    Could certainly just be me as I say; I find about 50% of this blog these days to range from ridiculous to offensive. Which is too bad because I used to sort of like it.

    I’m stepping out of character because I just came back to this thread, saw your post and wanted to respond properly to you.

    I apologise if Sarah comes across as ridiculous or offensive. That’s certainly not my intention, and least of all is it my intention to mock or belittle the elderly or the problems and joys that they (and their loved ones) face every day. There are several elderly women in my life who are a lot like Sarah and who would have me by the ear if they thought that was what I was up to. And yes, I know that’s just me saying “some of my best friends are old” but fortunately it’s true.

    Sarah is a character who appeared on the spur of the moment – at that time a mere mechanism to troll with and make a few jokes – but then Cole offered her the keys to his blog, and I was kind of stuck with her. More, I’ve grown to like her a lot. Some people seem to find her funny, and I certainly try to aim her barbs and rudeness only at those who deserve it. She also gives me a chance to talk about gay rights and women’s rights and suffering around the world or to find people a job, and I’m trying to balance that with the poo jokes, perhaps not very well.

    If Sarah ever says anything that crosses a line, I hope people will call her on it, and she will either apologise and try not to do it again, or at least tell you politely why she disagrees with you.

    I don’t expect to convince you that Sarah’s a wonderful thing, but I hope perhaps you might believe that my intentions (and hers) are as good as I can make them be.

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