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Category Archives: memorial

A tribute to my friend Diane

nikon1630I just got back from the memorial service for my friend Diane. It was great meeting lots of people that were important to her, and seeing some people that I hadn’t seen in a while. Seth, Chandra, and Janice. Also some former coworkers, Karen, Lois, Cynthia, and Jackie.

During the service her brother, Tamir, asked for people to come up and share stories about Diane. When I went to the memorial service for my friend Richard I was conflicted about speaking, but after the service was over I really regretted it. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. What follows is a more coherent and embellished version of what I said earlier today.

Diane and I became coworkers in 1987, when I was 27 and she 35. Her son, Seth, was about 11. Aside from immediately liking Diane (who wouldn’t??  If you didn’t immediately like Diane, I’m guessing you and I wouldn’t be friends), I was impressed by her son and their relationship. You see, at the time, I was pretty dead set against having kids. The reasons were complex, but it boiled down to me not knowing, with a high degree of certainty, how to raise a kid. Here was Diane, this single mom, who didn’t make a lot of money, raising a boy in a place where a lot of boys took the wrong path in life, and many of them had two parents. Why were she and Seth any different? Why was their relationship so good? What was her secret?

Diane’s office was in an out-of-the-way part of our office. She handled shipping, back in the days when software was still shipped. This is important, because it made it easier to hide out in her office and have long conversations. If I wasn’t too busy, I’d be in her office a few times a week. These conversations where always punctuated with laughter. Diane laughed effortlessly and it was infectious. What’d we talk about? I don’t remember the details, but I do remember we talked a lot about Seth, current events, politics, and what ever we wanted. Diane and I were kindred spirits in a lot of things in life.  As I said we talked a lot about Seth, but in particular, we talked about how she raised Seth. The nitty gritty, as it were. I found through these conversations that I had a good “parental” head on my shoulders, because I agreed with most (all?) of what Diane did and said about child rearing. To me it was plain she was a good mother and she was raising Seth to be a good man.

While I said I was against having kids of my own, I always really liked other people’s children. Seth was no exception. I loved the times when he was around. It was yet another excuse to hang out in Diane’s office. It was this association with Diane, and a couple of other people in my life, that turned my “I don’t want kids” into “hey, I can do this.” I can tell you that Diane had a larger impact than the others, though.  If I’m honest, I learned or confirmed most of my parenting skills from Diane.  The confirmation part was important to me, mainly because I wasn’t willing to throw the dice on raising a child.  I wanted to know before I started.  I didn’t want to leave it to chance.

When in my mid-30’s my wife started to suggest that we make one of our own, it was partly because of Diane that I said yes.  My son is 12. From the moment he was born he has been the most important thing in my life, just like Seth was to Diane. I can’t imagine life without him. It’s possible that if I had never met Diane I would not have answered yes to my wife 13 years ago. For that, I will be eternally grateful to Diane.  I never told Diane this. I wish I had.

I also want to mention that Diane’s sister-in-law Janice would sometimes visit, and this, too, was an excuse for me to hang out in Diane’s office. I really have fond memories of Diane, Janice and I talking away the time back there.  I’m glad I was able to give Janice a big hug today.  It meant a lot.

The other regret that I have is that I didn’t spend more time with Diane in the last few years. We talked occasionally, but not nearly enough. Each time we talked we’d say we needed to get together for lunch, but the distance between us (Oakland to Antioch) and our busy lives was an insurmountable barrier, it seems.

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“What would Aaron think?”

nikon4992The 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?