Notes as written

This is the written version of my eulogy for Aaron. I would like to not write any more eulogies for a while.

(The campfire at Lassen)

An event like Aaron’s death divides a life, the BC and AD of one’s personal story. From now on, my own biography will be divided into when Aaron was alive and after he died.

We look for the words that bring him back, we look for the memories that contain him like an incantation that can contain a soul. I have a thousand stories of our pieces of time together, a thousand little nets to trap the smoke he is now.

But I can’t. He has slipped away. I loved him, but he’s escaped me.

Aaron has left us, and entered the realm of mythmaking. He doesn’t belong to any one of us anymore, not even himself. He belongs to memory and history.

Still, I lost a person, a person I loved. That’s who I’ve come to talk about. Not the internet saint, or the incredibly accomplished activist, or the young and notable internet technologist. The Aaron I’ve come to talk about is the one that sang little boxes to my daughter in Daly City. The person that almost never did the damn dishes. The one that stole my camera to take long exposure of Ada and me sleeping. The one who complained all the way through camping trips, grinning, and always agreed to the next one. The one that climbed 30 feet to the top of a tree and sat there insisting he liked it and wouldn’t have any trouble getting down. He ate a lot of water crackers. I studied how to feed him, and in time I managed to get a few vegetables down him on a regular basis. Mostly though I managed to feed him cakes and cookies and creme brulee. He was terrible about making plans at the last minute. he could be a terrible pain in the ass.

We talk about how extraordinary he was, but he wasn’t. Aaron was another human, with all the flaws and glories that each of us have, infinite wells of solitude that we are.

He was scared and self conscious, funny, greedy, and petty, loving, curious, hopeful, and strange. He was irreducible, difficult: a person, the most complex thing we’ve yet found in our universe. He turned to me once in a movie theater and said, like someone that had just realized the answer to a difficult math problem, “I contain multitudes.”

To call Aaron extraordinary is, in a way, to sidestep the message of his how he lived his life.

The only reason we’re all here at this memorial holding up this 26 year old as a paragon is that in a culture ruled by fear he learned, and taught me, that trying was more important than being afraid. “Don’t worry,” he told me, “no one remembers your failures.” Don’t waste time doing small things and being cautious. We’re here because he did so much much in his 26 years… despite a culture saying you have to be careful and risk nothing, be responsible, deferential, go through the proper channels, he rejected that. He didn’t wait to start living. That’s all it took.

Aaron understood that learning was more important that accreditation, and that intelligence is a poor and pale substitute for caring. He burned with love for humanity. He surrounded himself with people — also infinitely complex — struck dumb by a love of the world. He lived a life of thought and action.

We shared an understanding, that a life is a thing made in the living of it.

He inspired me, and here, in the AD, I will carry that little inspiration like a jewel gripped in the hand, beautiful, valuable, abrasive, and impossible to forget.

First Fig
Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.

2 thoughts on “Notes as written

  1. Dion Dennis

    So many of us, at one point or another, have significant elements of our lifeworld captured by institutions. Many become self-professed believers (to differing degrees) in these institutions — governments, schools, religions, sports teams, the military, and so forth. We learn a local subcultural language, those forms of perception and become colonized with the modes of thought, action, utterance and predispositions that you’ve mentioned — prudence, subtlety,a deftness with symbols, a hierarchical deference. And these have their times and places and uses. But they also have their costs, especially when morality and ethics are re-coded, inside these contexts, places and spaces as “what the boss wants.” And that re-coding, even if partially internalized, can be deadly to the soul, even as the soul resists the betrayal of its own compass.

    Perhaps the qualities and sensibilities that you shared with Aaron came from the recognition that to live the life that made you (individually and collectively) alive was to parry, to deflect that internalization, and to meet live life aware of these forces, but not to be subsumed by them. It’s to Aaron’s great credit that he could shape powerful institutions and practices in ways that they could not imagine, and then go home to live, fully, in all the messy, vibrant, maddening, expansive, petty, loving, quirky, temperamental, inspired, heedless, and direct ways that you so well describe.

    On Saturday night, I watched and listened via the Lifestream feed. To read the text, slowly, is a parallel experience. Out of both, sharing the painful beauty is the telling, in the look back.

    Thank you for sharing your love of Aaron, with us, and of your shared love of the magical possibilities of this world.

  2. Butter

    The old retort to playground bullying — “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Never really made me feel any better growing up, but it gave me something to say when all I wanted to do was cry. The last three posts that ive just read of yours proves that while that limmerick might not be true, the inverse certainly is — namely, words, when strung together properly, with the right amount of skill, care, and a lot of love, can heal. Reading what you wrote, made me smile, laugh, cry, and ache. Probably similarly to what you went through writing those words when you wrote them. Aaron was gifted. You are gifted. In my opinion, regardless how mean and cruel the people of this world can be, they can also be just as beautiful and kind. It’s been said that “Change only comes at the barrel of a gun.” I beg to differ. Either that, or you write with a .50 Cal sniper rifle… Which may be just as true. 🙂

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