“What would Aaron think?”
January 13, 2013
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The title of this post is the reaction that Lawrence Lessig had to Aaron Swartz’ suicide on Friday. I read a lot about Aaron’s suicide yesterday (and the news on my usual morning websites to visit is still filled with discussion of his death). What struct me by Lessig’s reaction: I had that same reaction to the suicide of my friend Steve. I see many parallels between how people talk of Aaron and Steve. The shock. The loss. The lamenting what this world will be missing now that it is without them. Later will come the hole left by Aaron’s presence, as I and others experienced from Steve’s passing.
When I read Lessig’s words I recalled how it was. Before and after Steve’s death, I though many times each day what would Steve think? Steve was part older brother, mentor, adored friend. I only remember looking up to someone like this one other time in my life, when I was fourteen. The subject of my fourteen-year-old feelings was not at all worthy of them. Steve, on the other hand, was. He was an amazing person. His intelligence, even to this day, is a wonder. It wasn’t that I had an emotional crush on Steve and sought his approval. It was that Steve had an uncanny moral center to go along with his great intelligence and I could always count on him to surprise me by showing me what I knew deep down, but some how couldn’t quite realize consciously. Arguments with Steve would often start with me sure that I would be able to sway him to my point of view. These weren’t serious arguments, just discussions of events of the day, whether far (in the public eye) or near (having to do with our lives). It almost always turned out, though, that by the end of the discussion my point of view had been shown to be naive and uninformed. Strangely, I rarely, if ever, thought Steve was wrong and I was right, after all was said and done. I never felt a bruised ego. I never had anything but appreciation for him being what he was.
Sadly, I must report, that the question what would Steve think? doesn’t occur to be any longer. Too much time has passed. Too many brain cells have been reused for other purposes. I have trouble remembering the details of my conversations with Steve. Such is memory and life. It’s been almost 12 years since he passed from this world and made it just a little bit less interesting, less hopeful, less caring, and less just. So, I feel for the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, because some day they too might stop asking what would Aaron think?