Today marks the 18th anniversary of my brother Aaron’s death in the World Trade Center in New York. And it is also Picture Day at my kids’ schools: a peculiarly retro custom that goes along with the pre-smart phone era in which Aaron lived, and the pictures that my parents will share with our family tonight from Aaron’s life with us, trying to evoke with pleasure a full life cut short before any of our teen or tween kids were born. Aaron’s life as an adult was in the 90s (we went to the original Lollapallooza!), a decade that kids now conjure up with a kind of classic rock isn’t-that-sweet affection. As my almost 17 year old pointed out, they are part of a generation that deals with September 11th as a world historical event whose victims they never knew.
Last night I broke open a heavily plastic-sheathed six-pack of yahrzeit memorial candles I ordered from Amazon, and switched my tabs from elections to the prayer for lighting the candle and starting the day of remembering. It is hard to make a space in our lives 100% dedicated to memory: within minutes of lighting up, we returned to our wonderful mundane tasks and Bad Bunny once again yelped from someone’s room upstairs. When we are not in this dreadful week, often memories of Aaron can coexist happily with normal life, like a memory of the old country; this week, I feel the negative space of Aaron’s absence around which my life has shaped itself, like the twin black tattoos or scars I once fantasized getting for myself as a bodily memorial.
This summer I went with my parents on a trip to explore their own memories in Manhattan and The Bronx. We visited their apartment buildings (still the same), schools (one is now a prison :*( ), where they got married, and other places that even all these years after leaving town still make them who they are, and apparently explain why I say “orange” funny. We also visited the lake in Central Park that has become our place to remember Aaron. When we first visited this place in 2001 to make it into a memorial site, a beat-up gazebo was there, and a seemingly out of it man spending his day there knew enough to salute us with “yasher koach,” the Hebrew phrase meaning “may you have strength” used to salute someone after conducting a prayer or some other important task. 18 years later, I was grateful we all still had the strength to return and reflect on Aaron in New York.
The jarring neon-green bloom on the lake is a fitting backdrop for me, as I try to imagine Aaron into a future world increasingly made strange by climate crises and political and social violence. Someone reassured me at his funeral that he was in a better place, but I have always rejected that comfort, as Aaron was a genius at making his own life and the world better. He forgot what he needed to (being tormented on the elementary school bus), and remembered to do right by others, whether by remembering his fiancee’s medicine for her each day or putting a light-hearted check on the doofus instincts of some people that worked on his trading desk. I hope the work we do to weave Aaron’s memory into our lives–not just on this day, but throughout the year–not only keeps him alive but keeps us living in the confident, loving way he achieved for himself.
If you are reading this today and thinking of Aaron and our family, thank you.