Bittersweet Memories

From Rachel's Facebook page on March 5th


Rachel Jones added 2 new photos — feeling sad.

For Throwback Thursday ‪#‎TBT‬, bittersweet memories.

I have known for several weeks that March 5th was the deadline set by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for South Sudan’s two warring parties to end the almost 15-month-old conflict that has devastated the world’s newest country.

But for 12 years, I have also known that March 5th, 2003 was the day my oldest brother, David Stewart Jones, decided he didn’t want to be alive anymore. Since then, I’ve noted the day each year but managed to go about my business without dwelling on it. I wrote about it once on my now dormant “Notes From A Native Daughter” blog. But generally speaking, it was just another of a growing list of somber anniversaries you rack up as more and more close relatives and friends die.

This year, I’m thinking about David on March 5th for a lot of reasons. First, I would give anything to have been able to tell him that I was taking a job editing reporters in South Sudan, because David would have immediately started recounting the history of Sudan from, like, 2 BC or something. It seemed there was NOTHING that man didn’t know, hadn’t read about, or at least couldn’t hold a baseline conversation about. David remains one of the most brilliant people I have ever known, and that’s not just because he was the family hero, one of the first black students to graduate from Cairo High School, and one of the first on either side of our family to go to college (The University of Chicago on full scholarship at that--in 1965).

Those were reasons enough. But the bottom line is David was just super smart. When they were passing out brains, he went back for seconds and thirds.

I’m also thinking about David because he was the “Spock” of the Jones family. Cool, inscrutable, intellectual to the NTH DEGREE, unflappable. No pointy ears, but his pointed barbs could make you weak with laughter--or cut you off at the knees. You couldn’t win an argument with David, because even in the rare case where your position was correct, he would find a way to make you a just a little less sure you knew what the hell you were talking about.

The only time I ever saw that unflappability flap a little was at the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, in 1996 I believe. David had come to visit when I was living in an apartment just steps from the Capitol Building, and it was one of the proudest experiences of my life up to that point. My big GENIUS brother, the successful financial businessman, would stay in my apartment, and I would squire him around town. We would finally interact as one adult to another, and the prospect of earning his respect was thrilling.

I even had the foresight to record an interview with him about being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, before we headed to The Wall. That recording should have been one of my most precious possessions---like the Obama ‘08 button my sister Julie sent me as part of a Northern Uganda care package a few months before she died in October 2007. But that micro-cassette tape got lost about 10 moves ago, I imagine. Still, I’ll never lose the image of David sobbing as he leaned against the wall, moaning over and over, “They were just boys. All of them were just boys.”

At one point, David Stewart Jones was just a boy, too. Which reminds me that I will ALSO never forget him telling me during that same DC trip that by the time he was 7 or 8 years old, he had deduced that Lewis and Eloise Jones weren’t exactly the most responsible people in the world for having so many kids they couldn’t afford, and so he realized he would never get what he needed in terms of emotional support. You might not believe an 8 year old kid could figure that kind of stuff out, but David was a deep little dude, or so I’m told.

So he basically started charting his own path in the world. I guess that’s about the time David “Spock-ed” up and told the world to “BRING IT.” That got him through racism, poverty, the turbulent desegregation of Cairo Schools, not being allowed to go on the Senior Class Trip because he was black, and being the Valedictorian of his high school class--but having school officials cancel the ceremony rather than give the award to him.

He “Spock-ed” up again a few years later, when he decided he was not going to Vietnam and kill people who hadn’t done a damn thing to him. That’s when he started the mental and physical training for the years of isolation and deprivation he figured he’d have to endure when he’d get jail time for draft dodging. He even hiked part of the Appalachian Trail as preparation, for God’s sake. And he “Spock-ed” up Big Time as he stood in front of that judge in East St. Louis, Illinois to explain why he would not go to Vietnam.

But I bet he felt like James T. Kirk solving the Kobayashi Maru when that judge dismissed the case and he was free to go. And I am convinced that like hundreds of other people David Stewart Jones met in his lifetime, that judge never forgot the articulate, poised young black man from Cairo, Illinois, with a voice that rumbled like a mixture of Rod Serling’s AND Leonard Nimoy’s, who logically and eloquently explained that he was ready to go to jail for what he believed in.

Anyway, here’s the final reason I’m remembering my oldest brother today. He was “Barack Obama Cool” before anybody even knew who Barack Obama was. He even got married on top of Mt. Haleakala on Maui. David LOVED Hawaii, went as often as he could. And if Barack Obama had met David Stewart Jones back in the day, well, let’s just say I might have an all access pass to the White House right about now, because the President would have been savvy enough to stay in touch with my brother, would have kept him around as a mentor and close friend.

But wait…..12 years ago today, my brother decided he didn’t want to be alive anymore. I’m convinced that if he could have fought his way through the mental fog and pain to know how much emotional devastation his decision would cause, he wouldn’t have left us. But then that’s just another example of me thinking about ME. How could he do that to ME? Sure, it wasn’t like we were super close, like we talked on the phone all the time or visited regularly. But he was the Jones family ICON. He was our Spock. He was our Obama.

Since that day 12 years ago, we’ve all had to learn that when you place people on a pedestal, sometimes they’re too high up to reach down and ask for help. Being perfect, the smartest, “The First,” simply does not give you permission to be human. We weren’t really concerned with HOW David Stewart Jones would keep on being invincible, we just needed him to stay that way. But he couldn’t. And I miss his presence in the marrow of my bones, in the deepest cavern of my heart.

So I’m starting Thursday morning in Juba hoping an authentic peace deal is achieved for South Sudan. That would be wonderful news. But whatever happens, I just wish my big brother David was here to explain what it all REALLY means. Somehow, he would have been able to solve the geo-political jigsaw puzzle in about 5 minutes flat and cut to the core of the issue. Then I would be able to parrot everything he told me because even if I didn’t understand it, I would sound so damn smart! I would just arch an eyebrow, square my shoulders and launch forth with my analysis, smooth as silk, and people would take heed.

So yeah, I got cheated when David Stewart Jones checked out. But in the end, the person he cheated the most was himself.

He was supposed to have lived long and prospered.