It’s more than likely you do not know the name Aaron Swartz; before this morning I did not either. But if you are reading this on a feed reader, he is why. Among many other things, he helped create the RSS feed by which you’re reading this. When he was 14.
Yesterday he hanged himself.
He suffered from depression, and was being prosecuted by the US Attorney for illegally downloading 5 million academic articles from a subscription service. He believed deeply that all information should be available for free. With a little Googling you can find all this; I don’t have the heart to search it out and link it all. But that’s not why I sit here now, shaken and red-eyed.
Rick Perlstein of The Nation wrote of his friend:
I remember always thinking that he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in, and I remember him working so mightily, so heroically, to try to bend the world into a place more hospitable to people like him, which also means hospitable to people like us.
And I sobbed.
I sobbed for my son, my incredibly sensitive twice-exceptional son, who this morning was distraught beyond words when we learned that our beloved pediatrician in Colorado had died on Christmas eve. I sobbed for all of our gifted and twice-exceptional children, fighting their way through their demons as the world around them actively strives to strike them down. I sobbed for us parents, struggling day after day to help our complex children navigate this world, even as we rail against the weight and unfairness of the burden. I sobbed for Aaron and for the pain of his parents.
I am sobbing still.
This young man, who I have never met and had not heard of before today, was obviously quite gifted. Based on what I’ve read today, he loved life and learning and creating solutions for problems no one yet knew they had. I didn’t know I needed an RSS feed reader until I used one; now I can’t imagine not using one daily. I think I would have liked him; he reminds me of my own son.
People? What are we doing to our best and brightest? I mourn this young man because he is…he is the child we’re raising now. Every time I read Perlstein’s observation of his friend, “he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in,” my heart breaks anew for our gifted sons and daughters. They are not gifted because they can do higher level math, or write complex computer code, or read and understand and discuss Chaucer. They are gifted because that is who they are. They are not, I repeat NOT, the product of their talents. Giftedness is not always a gift; too often it is a burden. To carry that burden alone, seeing and tasting and feeling the world a different way, while being lauded only for what you produce, for what you give to the world…
Gifted children and adults are not gifted for what they do, they just are. And it is dangerous and negligent to forget that. To focus solely on talents and eminence reduces a person’s very being down to “what have you done for me (society) lately,” and “you’re only gifted if what you produce is worthwhile (to society).” No. I demand more than this. I demand more than this for my son, for your son, for all of our gifted children struggling in this world. Struggling against poor educational fit, against bullying, against a society that thinks these children are not gifted unless they produce and produce in volume. Gifted is. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
I mourn Aaron Swartz, a young man I didn’t know. But I know a lot of young gifted kids, and I pray that I never have to mourn them. We can do better for our children, and we must.