Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Goodbye, Aaron.

My son is failing to nap in the bedroom where Aaron Swartz spent a week as houseguest about four years back. I’m reading reactions to his suicide from friends who knew him well. I listen to Drew’s room – our old guest room – hoping to hear silence. When Aaron stayed here, I remember listening to that room for signs of life. During a week-long New Year’s party, Aaron seldom left that room. He read, reaching his goal of reading 100 books in a year. On New Year’s Day, he emerged and played Rock Band with us.

I knew Aaron for about a decade, but I didn’t know Aaron well. As some have noted, Aaron wasn’t always an easy guy to know. But some of the people he touched the most are people I know well, and I’m reading today less about the political in his death than the personal. Quinn, for years his partner (and the person who dragged him to our party, while Aaron might have preferred to read in peace), has shared two pieces, a post Aaron made and later retracted about their relationship, and her reactions, today, as she digests the news.

Cory Doctorow knew Aaron well and his remembrance rings true to people who knew Aaron: he was complicated, multi-layered, inspiring and frustrating, sometimes all at once. This line – “I’m so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron” – is the closest I’ve read today to what I’d want to say.

Doc Searls remembers Aaron at 15. I remember him from that time as well – at a conference where internet greybeards wanted to meet the teenager who’d co-authored RSS, and Aaron clearly just wanted to be part of the crowd, not the center of attention. In a tweet earlier today, someone noted that they’d watched Aaron grow up and watched the internet grow up in parallel.

Some of those closest to Aaron are angry. Larry Lessig, who worked closely with him as friend, legal counsel and advisor, begs us: “Please don’t pathologize this story.” Larry wants us to make sure that we don’t forget that overzealous, disproportionate prosecution put Aaron under an impossible strain, facing multiple felony charges for what’s better understood as activism-motivated trespassing. He’s right that it was absurd to label Aaron a felon, and that the prosecutors should feel shame for their role in his depression and death. (And some of that shame should be shared by all of us who didn’t fight harder in his defense, either because we thought he was reckless or because we thought prosecutors would relent.)

I’m angry too. But I’m sad: sad that people wrestle with depression, sad that the love, support and admiration of people sometimes isn’t enough. Sad that it’s possible to mobilize and inspire people, but not find your own equilibrium. Sad for all the people who tried hard to find ways to help, support and love Aaron.

Drew’s asleep now. Aaron’s gone. I’m so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron.

Rest in peace.


Aaron’s obituary in the New York Times.
EFF’s farewell to Aaron, by Peter Eckersley.
Continuity – Aaron’s instructions from 2002 for keeping his web projects running.

4 Responses to “Goodbye, Aaron.”

  1. Thanks for this post, and for the links to Quinn’s posts. I’m heading over there now.

  2. Rodrigo says:

    You may have already seen, but here is a recap of sorts involving that year your New Year’s http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/2008books

  3. Mark Kraft says:

    Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
    To render with thy precepts less
    The sum of human wretchedness,
    And strengthen Man with his own mind;

    But baffled as thou wert from high,
    Still in thy patient energy,
    In the endurance, and repulse
    Of thine impenetrable Spirit,

    Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
    A mighty lesson we inherit:
    Thou art a symbol and a sign
    To Mortals of their fate and force;

    Like thee, Man is in part divine,
    A troubled stream from a pure source;
    And Man in portions can foresee
    His own funereal destiny;

    His wretchedness, and his resistance,
    And his sad unallied existence:
    To which his Spirit may oppose
    Itself — and equal to all woes,

    And a firm will, and a deep sense,
    Which even in torture can decry
    Its own concenter’d recompense,
    Triumphant where it dares defy,

    And making Death a Victory.

    - Prometheus
    Lord Byron
    July, 1816

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