I didn't know Aaron personally. I'm probably similar to you in that regard. Sure, I was peripherally aware of his work and achievements in spreading freedom the way he knew best. But he really didn't come into sharp focus for me until he died.
That's sad. In retrospect, I really wish I could have been more present and that I had made a point to meet him. In those days, I doubt that I would have had much to offer by way of assistance, but I wish I could have at least said "thank you", and offered words of encouragement.
I don't want this post to be all melancholy. So, here's the positive part. Aaron's early departure from this earth catalyzed me to learn about and to reflect on his work and the work that still needs to be done. It helped me to add a new verse to my personal philosophy. It goes something like this:
"Meet people that are doing great and selfless things for humanity while we still can. Help them where possible. Thank them for what they do. And, if we can't meet them before they depart, honour them and spread the word about them."
Last night, I and several hundred others had the opportunity to honour Aaron at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. We watched Aaron's story and heard from people who knew him. We had a chance to thank him and I am truly thankful that we had this chance.
Come to think of it, Aaron not only raised my awareness about the ongoing battle for freedom, but he also gave me the chance to meet like-minded people and to share stories with people who are working to make the world a better place. (Unsurprisingly, several of the folks I met were doing so with Ubuntu.)
And also quite accidentally, Aaron introduced me to another one of my personal heroes, Ted Nelson .Ted, the inventor of hypertext, the creator of the underlying concepts that became the world-wide web. Ted, we met ever so briefly last night, and unfortunately you had to run off before I could give you a proper thank you. But, I'm happy we at least had the chance to meet and I hope we'll meet again soon.
Aaron, thank you for all you have done. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to make some new Ubuntu friends, and to meet another of my personal heroes.
Who are your personal heroes? Have you met them? I hope you will.
I hope you'll watch The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz