On September 11, 2001, America, the melting pot of diversity, was reminded how precious all life is, and how fleeting it can become. Yesterday, as I saw the various memorials, something stood out to me that I had to share.
I thought today, for those who are younger, or those who care to remember I would share just one short story of the openly gay Franciscan priest, Father Mychal Judge, who rushed to the North Tower when he heard of the calamity.
In the emergency command post then being established, he stood amidst the debris and rubble, praying for those lost and assisting those who survived. But when the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., carnage and debris went flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many inside, including Father Judge.
An NYPD lieutenant recovered Judge's body. Assisted by two firemen and two civilian bystanders, they carried it out of the North Tower lobby to nearby St. Peter's Church.
You may remember the imagery. It was captured in the documentary film 9/11, and the photograph of Judge's body being carried out of the rubble by five men evolved to become one of the most compelling pictures from that remarkable day.
Mychal Judge was designated as "Victim 0001" and thereby recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Other victims died before him including aircrew, passengers, and occupants of the towers, but Judge was the first certified fatality because his was the first body to be recovered and taken to the coroner.
Three thousand people attended Judge's funeral at St Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, including former President Bill Clinton. He eulogized the priest as "a man who was an example of what has to prevail ... We have to be more like Father Mike than the people who killed him."
As news of his death emerged worldwide, so too did word of his sexual orientation. It was a quiet, loving, comfortably gay pastor that had won international recognition and acclaim.
A year later, the U.S. Congress passed The Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers Benefit Act into law. This was the first time the federal government ever extended equal benefits for same-sex couples, allowing the domestic partners of public safety officers killed in the line of duty to collect their federal death benefit.
Streets have been renamed after Father Mychal Judge, documentaries have been created, and awards have been bestowed, from his homeland of Ireland to New York City. Like so many citizens of the world in the World Trade Center on that day, he was simply a good man doing his duty. We lost many such warriors that day.
On that day, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight did not matter. All of us found in this great loss a bond that is etched and seared into our hearts and souls forever.
If you are a kid who grew up in the 1960's, walking barefoot in the mud at Woodstock, smoking pot in your dorm room, calling for peace and love and truth, well, days like 9/11 are reminders that the world has grown up, but not the way we planned for it to be.
Not the way we planned it at all.