Remembering Aaron and others this September 11th

My first day at Amherst College in 1987, with Aaron and my parents

My first day at Amherst College in 1987, with Aaron and my parents

For the past three years I’ve been writing my way towards a more public stance in sharing my loss of my brother, Aaron Jacobs, in the World Trade Center on 9/11. This started with a piece in The Awl in May 2011, about how my status as a 9/11 family member connected to reactions when Osama bin Laden was killed. I’ve posted other memorials at this anniversary each year, talking about how changes in my own life made me reflect on Aaron’s life in new ways. I have many blessings in my life, in particular Amy and our kids, but amidst this plenty I do still feel shocked and haunted every day by Aaron’s loss. The hole in our lives where he should be is in no way healed over, but moves and changes shape as we keep on living.

This past year I had the chance to connect with someone who also lost a family member on 9/11. I was introduced last fall by a friend who teaches at Hampshire College to her student, Colby, whose senior project was on narratives of 9/11 family members as they negotiated their private journeys of mourning in the context of intense public and media coverage. Colby was nine years old when she lost her mother in the World Trade Center, and until she met me had never spoken about that day or the aftermath with another 9/11 family member. We did a long interview at my house in November, talking about Aaron and my experiences since then, addressing questions like how I felt about the Iraq War, how did I feel about media coverage etc. It brought up the fact that I had not really been “out” as a 9/11 family member and I’ve wondered since then about whether the lens of being closeted or open with regard to gender could be a useful way to look at myself.

The first slide of Colby's Prezi presentation

The first slide of Colby’s Prezi presentation: “Navigating Loss in the Public Eye: Narratives of 9/11 Family Members”

I was grateful to have the chance to support this younger person dealing with a similar loss but at a different place in her journey. Then in April, I had the chance to go out to Hampshire to hear Colby’s final project session, which I thought was great in the sense that it hit the marks of an undergrad thesis, but whose subject matter was so powerful and ineffable that it could not be channeled into such a defined presentation. What really brought home that disjunction of medium and subject matter for me was the fact that Colby used a presentation software called Prezi. Prezi is different from Powerpoint in that it conveys meaning not just in words or pictures on slides, but in how the presentation moves from one slide to the next. You start at a homescreen and then zoom in (or out), twist from one slide — as it were, to change an angle of discussion — and in other ways illustrate progress and motion through the various points you want to make. Personally I prefer the static, oppressive vibe of sitting through Powerpoints to all this juking and bopping, but that’s just me. Get offa my lawn kids!

Something about framing the mourning journey in a Prezi provoked me to try and write a poem, and I have brooded on it all summer with today’s obvious deadline. What I realized in writing it was that it marks some ambiguous transition for me, as I continue to try and deal with my own loss in a private way but also feel capable of connecting with (or even helping) others in related situations. I tried to capture what is sort of awful about using Prezi for this purpose–the smooth new-corporate glossiness for a topic that is so raw–but also how the structure Prezi provides is not unlike other structures we adopt to keep ourselves moving through grief. I know that most of you oldsters reading this have never seen Prezi in action, so between that and my own vaguenesses there is some obscurity going on here. I wish I had more time and urgent motivation to write throughout the year, but am grateful at least to be able to write from this most powerful and deep-seated motivation every so often.

As an experiment, I’ve added this recording of me reading the poem. Props to my man jh0st for suggesting this.

Remembering Aaron, and so many others, today and every day.


A Prezi for the departed


The mourning template has a pleasant face—

It melds inviting blurs of voicemail clips,

Stray photographs, the downloads from the dead. 


The face becomes our starting point. We click

This eye to follow one loss down, from who

(We hear the wedding speech), to what (the plane,


The cancers), to the living. Quarter-turn: 

We trace the mourner’s path from boom to now: 

Our view pans over impact statements, blinks


A flashback like a strobe across the page—

And then we bounce, yanked forward to the next

Departed, all the g-force metered out


To give that first-day kick, the next years’ drag,

And drift us to “conclusion” at the end. 

Oh Prezi, logo-shirted Virgil, steer


Along these rails and never stray: for if

These dead are not yet ours to mourn, this dance

You lead, so briskly guiding hands and knees


In painted steps along this path, is one

We all start from the floor. Your glib bright hand

Is what we have to grab to follow on.


September 2014

© Joshua Jacobs

3 thoughts on “Remembering Aaron and others this September 11th

  1. Hi Josh,

    I want you to know that i will never forget Aaron.I have thought of him many times since that day. This is how i got to know him. I was at a Memorial here in Seattle at Seattle Center for all the victims. There was this little girl crying right behind me, she was crying hard. She was so sad. It turns out that she is your niece…though this story is short, it has never left my heart. There were the names of 3,000 people on little pieces of paper tied to two arbors and your niece had a rose that she wanted to put next to Aarons name and she couldnt find his name. She took me down where all the flowers and photos were and she showed me his picture. I will never forget his big brown eyes and his infectious smile. So, I was very moved. I told her that i would find his name for her. She and her mom went walking around in the center…and lo and behold I got very overwhelmed with all the names flying in the breeze. And there right in front of my face was his name. i went and found your niece and brought her back to his name so she could put her flower there. I dont know who or how i heard this, but she said ” mom, there is the angel lady.” i guess really Aaron was the angel who guided me to his name. I have shared this story so many times about your brother and your niece…and am glad to have this opportunity to share it with you. I read about the memorial bench that was made in his name. It made my heart sing. Please share this short story with your family. Aaron will forever be in my heart.

  2. Hi Josh,

    My parents, brother, and I lived caddie-corner from your folks, you, and Aaron when you lived on Claves Court in Shouse Village, Vienna, VA in the late seventies. I used to look after you and Aaron when your folks would have dinner engagements. I remember all of you and there are many things I recall about Aaron. He had a way of talking that was very different, and challenging to understand at first. For example, “Hi Bill” would become “Ha BLLLL”. Your cat “Fluffy” was “FWUFFEE”. Words sort of morphed together. It was surprising how quickly, if one really listened, one adapted and could understand everything he was saying. I recall it baffling the neighbors as he and I would talk. He loved to run around the house while I was there, with me giving chase, and would end up diving onto an overstuffed leather chair face down, giggling and screaming the whole time. He would want to do it again and again and again. Even though he was only three or so, he would always call out from across the street to say hi if he saw me. He was friendly to everyone he encountered. I am glad to read in accounts of his years after that that he accomplished and experienced much and was a gift to many around him in the 27 years he was blessed with. I’ll always remember him as this sweet, loving little guy one couldn’t help but adore. I miss him, and I only knew him for a little while a long time ago.

    Bill Lewis

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