On my right

Today my family and I remember my brother, Aaron Jacobs, who was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, at age 27. Aaron was sweet, funny, sharp, and devoted to those he loved. In his young life he accomplished a lot professionally—a vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald, he transformed his “hyper” burden as a child into fast-twitch success on the trading desk—and personally, becoming engaged earlier that summer to a wonderful woman who remains close to us, and cultivating a close group of friends.

Aaron and Josh, 70s/90s/00s

In the months after Aaron died, I remember talking with a friend who had lost two siblings to violence years before, who told me he no longer felt the fresh pain of their loss and could think of them “normally” between periodic feelings of grief. I couldn’t believe then that I could ever get to that place in my feelings about Aaron. But now, nineteen years in, I feel my mourning for Aaron in my body like a lake that is, imperceptibly, still resonating from a rock’s splash. And for the body’s own reasons, I feel an upwelling of anxiety and exhaustion every year as this anniversary approaches.

What’s different this year is the society around this “lake” of memory no longer seems to hinge on 9/11 as the key world-historical event of the century. For most of the years since 2001, I’ve felt the added pain and anger of dealing with politicians, commentators and yahoos asking What Did 9/11 Mean, usually amplifying jingoistic hatred and in no way improving our world in ways that would honor Aaron’s memory. America’s failure to reckon with 9/11 was a failure even to share an understanding of what happened, and of how to hold people and institutions accountable. Now 9/11 seems like a footnote, and a harbinger for how deeply we are failing in 2020 to understand our realities of climate catastrophes, racist violence and political corruption, all promising to damage American lives at an unprecedented scale.

So, justifiably, a lot fewer people are going to be asking what 9/11 was all about this year, and since I’m at home anyway I don’t need to find a reason to avoid sharing my personal take on this day in history. But the crises we’re facing now make me miss Aaron in a new way, as it becomes harder to imagine what he would be doing now and how he would deal with this moment that calls for radical new approaches to our lives.

In looking at these photos from three decades together, I wonder why Aaron was always on my right. Is this the natural relation of older and younger sons? I’m glad for my daughters’ sake that hugging each other has come easily throughout their lives: it was only after Aaron was about my height as adults that I found myself habitually putting my right arm around his shoulders. It’s not easy to say Aaron was my right-hand man–though he was–because I am so sorry to have missed the chance to be his man in the future he was building, for himself and for all of us who loved him.

If you have come this way thinking of Aaron and us, thank you. If you would like to share in a movement that’s bringing me optimism these days, please check out the Movement Voter Project, helping fund grass-roots organizing among communities of color/LGBTQ/youth, in ways that promise to elevate their political power long-term, help shift this year’s election, and repair the world.

B-side elegy
I walked into the Bruegger’s
where you used to work and they
were playing U2’s “Sweetest Thing,”
your favorite b-side on cassette.
The anniversary’s coming up.
I might construct a playlist,
songs lined up like Chuck Berry impersonators
jamming in an empty hotel ballroom.
The Golden Record strapped to Voyager 1
escaped the earthly confines of Top Tens,
sent off by loving white-gowned techs
believing there would be a party out there.
Inside the restaurant now, I see a face
bob to a private soundtrack,
as I listen separately outside
to something far too cheerful in the pickup line.

7 thoughts on “On my right

  1. The “sweetest thing” at Bruggers? ❤️
    Damn, this is always a hard day. I do miss Aaron a lot more than just this anniversary. I have 2 boys, 10 & 11, and they will read this today. Thank you.
    Much love ❤️

  2. As always what you have written has brought tears to my eyes. You write in a way that evokes with crystal clarity and beauty, while at the same time pondering. Losing a loved one in such an abhorrent way, being it 9/11, racism, domestic violence… any act of violence that rips a loved one from their family leaves a scar that never quite heals.
    We all know that at a given time each of us will pass from this earth. As with my father who died at the young age of 57, I was able to be by his bedside holding his hand and singing lullabies as he crossed over – there was closure that accompanied the sorrow.
    I am sending you love and peace today and always.

  3. ” I feel my mourning for Aaron in my body like a lake that is, imperceptibly, still resonating from a rock’s splash.” This sentence describes your loss (and our loss) in a way I could never have fully understood. Thank you. Although I never met your brother, waiting to hear in the halls of WMS if was alive, left an indelible mark on me too. Love and peace to your beautiful family.

  4. I did not know Aaron but I appreciate and learn from your reflections on your brother, your loss and life’s arc. Best wishes to all of your family during these crazy times.

  5. Beautiful, Josh. The first picture is how I remember you and Aaron, having spent the most time with you as children. I am thinking of you and your family. The crisis of current day does not diminish the wounds of 9/11 and the tragedy of all who were lost. Your tributes to Aaron over the years evoke such heart-wrenching love for your brother. I’m sure he knows this wherever he is.
    Love, Robin

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