Remember Aaron Swartz


Chicago 2010

I went to Chicago over Labor Day weekend 2010. I tweeted my arrival from the plane, as one does, and Aaron, whom I hadn’t seen in ages, saw the tweet and responded: he happened to be in town; let’s get together. We met up at the Wieners Circle on Sunday afternoon (after a slight detour due to Google Maps’ directing me to Wrigley Field) - a lovely, sunny early fall day. We’d never hung out just on our own before; the other times had always been conferences, parties, and the like. I figured we’d catch up briefly, eat our hot dogs, and go about our days. We wound up talking for hours. I don’t even remember much of what we talked about. Mostly I remember the astonishing feeling of a connection with him, and the times when we’d go quiet for a moment and he’d look at me sideways and give that small, shy smile of his. The only conversation topic I remember is that we decided that the recently renamed Willis Tower should be referred to as the Wesley Willis Tower. When we finally left, it was nighttime. The Venerable Bede compared a human life to a swallow flying out of the night through the open window of a cathedral, flitting for a brief moment through the light inside, and then flying out the other side. The last I saw of Aaron, he was heading off into the night, away from the lit-up hot dog joint – the ridiculous to the Venerable Bede’s sublime. I had a momentary impulse not to let him walk away, not to let that weird, fleeting connection drop, though I was so late already for my evening plans (my friend whom I’d stood up was so mad!). I didn’t see Aaron in person again after that, and now he’s out in the dark, beyond anyone’s power to recall. I’ve cried a lot since Saturday morning, but when I think of that shy sideways smile, I smile back.