9/11 Victim 0001: The Happiest Man on Earth

Accountability Community Contribution


This week I listened to 9/11 stories on National Public Radio. One story I listened to was about Mychal Judge, the legendary and beloved Franciscan chaplain of the NYFD. This NPR clip was an interview with Bill Cosgrove, a police lieutenant who stumbled on Father Mychal’s body and then with four others, carried him out of the rubble and chaos. Cosgrove is convinced that Mychal’s last selfless act of love was saving the lives of the first responders who carried him out. Shortly after the famous picture below was taken, the tower fell and these firemen would have surely been inside and fatalities with the rest of their comrades.

Father Judge was the first recorded death from the attacks that morning. His life’s work is a loving foundation for the tenth anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks: peace, tolerance and reconciliation. One of the first vigils held this year was in honor of Father Mychal. About 300 people gathered last Sunday in front of the St Francis Church where Judge lived and worked, just down the block from the ladder 24/engine 1 firehouse. The march followed Father Mychal’s final path to Ground Zero.

A fellow a Franciscan, Fr. Michael Duffy, gave the eulogy of Father Mychal, ten years ago and a few days after 9/11. The following is an excerpt: (read the entire eulogy here).

” He would say to me once in a while, “Michael Duffy” –– he always called me by my full name –– “Michael Duffy, you know what I need?” And I would get excited because it was hard to buy him a present.

I said, “No, what?”

“You know what I really need?”

“No, what Mike?”

“Absolutely nothing. I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth.” And then he would go on for ten minutes, telling me how blessed he felt. “I have beautiful sisters. I have nieces and nephews. I have my health. I’m a Franciscan priest. I love my work. I love my ministry.” And he would go on, and always conclude by looking up to heaven and saying, “Why am I so blessed? I don’t deserve it. Why am I so blessed?” But that’s how he felt all his life. 

Another characteristic of Mychal Judge, he loved to bless people, and I mean physically, even if they didn’t ask. A little old lady would come up to him and he’d talk to them, you know, as if they were the only person on the face of the earth. Then, he’d say, “Let me give you a blessing.” He put his big thick Irish hands and pressed her head till I think the poor woman would be crushed, and he’d look up to heaven and he’d ask God to bless her, give her health and give her peace and so on…

It reminds me of that very well known Picasso sketch of two hands holding a bouquet of flowers. You know the one I mean –– there’s a small bouquet, it’s colorful and a hand coming from the left side and a hand coming from the right side. Both are holding the bouquet. The artist was clever enough to draw the hands in the exact same angle. You don’t know who’s receiving and who is giving. And it was the same way with Mychal. You should know how much you gave to him, and it was that love that he had for people, and that way of relating to him, that led him back to New York City and to become part of the fire department…

He loved his fire department and all the men in it. He’d call me late at night and tell me all the experiences that he had with them, how wonderful they were, how good they were. It was never so obvious that he loved a group of people so much as his New York firefighters. And that’s the way he was when he died…

The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they didn’t want to leave it in the street. They quickly carried it into a church and not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They put the body in front of the altar. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked God. And then they rushed back to work.

And so, this morning we come to bury Mike Judge’s body but not his spirit. We come to bury his mind but not his dreams. We come to bury his voice but not his message. We come to bury his hands but not his good works. We come to bury his heart but not his love. Never his love.” 

Character Move: Simply reflect on how Mychal Judge is a metaphor of The Character Triangle. He died in the act of being self-accountable, respected every human he interacted with, and embodied abundance through his joy in daily practice: the happiest man on earth.

Then ask yourself what you want your eulogy to say.

Two hands holding a bouquet in The Triangle,