I am very sad about Aaron Swartz’s death. We spent last weekend just devastated and in shock, then went to his funeral in Chicago. The shared sadness united us all. I feel for his family and his partner Taren. Aaron’s father spoke at his funeral, and his defense lawyer, one of his brothers, and many friends and colleagues. Larry Lessig’s words about feeling protective especially brought me to tears. I wish I could remember everything he said as it resonated with many things I felt but didn’t have coherently expressed even to myself.
I did not know Aaron well on the level of having the intense intellectual conversations that many people had with him, though I enjoyed reading his blog and supported his projects. I mostly knew him as my partner Danny’s daughter Ada’s kind and loving friend, as he was close to her mom for years and they lived with him or stayed with him often. She talked about him often and their games and how he would take her swimming. He was the grownup who would play with her the most instead of doing grownup things like making you do your homework. I would see Aaron at family events like Ada’s nursery school graduation, holidays and birthdays, or, ubiquitously on Skype while Ada talked with her mom and Aaron would pop up clowning around to make her laugh with all their running jokes. They made movies together and had a great relationship. Of course, I love anyone who loves Ada so dearly, appreciates and cares for her. As Aaron did.
And I felt towards him how I feel as a 43 year old intellectual feels toward brilliant creative people in their 20s or younger. Fond and and a little protective from a distance, admiring of their daring, their bright energetic path, and looking forward so much to what they will do and will become. Respectful of their maturity while waiting to see how it deepens. I don’t mean to make too much of generational differences, but as I hit middle age I am aware of those differences in a complex way.
I did not plan to do anything at his grave but then was gripped with the feeling that if I participated in putting earth on the grave I would be acknowledging everything and that it would be right. His death wasn’t right. Despite being there I can’t grasp that it really happened and he is not going to be around.
So many vivid moments from the funeral and afterwards. I will never forget Seth at lunch as we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, kindly turning to me in his deliberate and quiet way saying, as if remembering each word from a foreign language or trying to eliminate all the letter E from a sentence, “I always try to remember, when I cry a lot, it’s important to drink water.” I obediently drank my glass of water. A funny little detail. I would wish for no one to cry so much as we did. But when we do, it’s good that we take care of ourselves and others. Thank you Seth.
We are all reeling from Aaron’s loss. There will be a memorial for him at the Internet Archive next week and I believe also a hackathon in his memory at some point. While I feel the sadness many people do, supporting Danny’s daughter is one of my top priorities right now just keeping things going in a normal way and food on the table, appreciating her funny dances and fantastic stories, writing in runes, just listening to her, bringing over her friends to play. It is beautiful, and heartening, to have children livening things up like an overflowing fountain, and we all watch them and press each others’ hands in desperate appreciation of their beauty. Life goes on, and we are happy. In the middle of the happiness we are crying a lot and will be for quite some time.
Aaron’s loss is a loss to the entire world. I feel the surge of determination and fierceness surge through my friends who are geeks and activists. This helps me deal with the sadness on an abstract level, but not on the personal level. Of course Danny and I have read pretty much everything everyone wrote about Aaron and his work and his death over the last week. I don’t feel like I have to say something clever or do a giant link round up of it. I think we are all trying to transmute grief into hope, belief, and action. Where that will lead, I don’t know.