The Urge to Live

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I am sitting here enjoying 1/3rd of my cheddar truckle from Trader Joe’s with some slices of perfectly tart and textured honeycrisp apples. Meanwhile, my daughter is kicking and squirming and rolling around inside me, probably having woken from a micronap or showing her mutual enthusiasm of aged dairy products. And Aaron Swartz is dead by his own hand.

The truckle was a gamble that paid off; TJ’s has no elaborate cheese counter where I can taste the product, and so I put down my money and hoped for the best. But at $4.99 a piece, it’s pretty much a steal. It’s the sort of cheese I will savor over the next couple of months, sealing it carefully in plastic and pulling it out when I’m hungry and need the kind of comfort that only a sharp, robust, well-rounded cheddar can bring. It plays well with fruit; I suspect grapes would also taste divine with it. It is the sort of cheese that makes you happy to be able to chew and taste and live. I realize that’s a lot to hang on a piece of food, but I’ve made an effort to fill my life with little treasures like the truckle, because I find life pleasurable and pleasant.

Aaron did not.

Honestly, I didn’t know his name until today. I knew his technologies, and this blog uses some of them. I remember when RSS first came out and thinking, my god, finally. In retrospect, it was the sort of thing that the Web was just waiting to invent: an easy way to aggregate information that is now so common most people don’t even know when they’re using it. That it was so obvious doesn’t diminish its genius or his contributions.  So many smart ideas are simply born from the ability to differentiate the sound from the noise, to find the blindingly obvious goals amid the detritus, and then to grab that idea and see it through. It sounds like Aaron had that knack.

Since Zoe has started kicking me, I have pondered this urge to live. My daughter, who knows nothing of RSS feeds or truckles or Neil Gaiman’s dog Cabal, wants to live. Her kicks and rolls tell me so. And I ponder that. That innate drive that she expresses so effortlessly. I ponder how some lose it later on down the road, yielding bit by bit to the crushing weight of depression. Until there’s nothing left, but a seeming final answer with no winners, and leaving a mountain of anger and guilt and questions for the survivors.

I have been sad. I have been despondent. I have had moments where I felt like I was at the bottom of a well, and that my decisions put me there. But I also know that I have never been clinically depressed. I have friends who are — friends who measure out their days, who fight just to get out of bed. I cannot understand what they go through, I can only offer my sympathy and hope it helps.

Of course, not lost on me is that “zoe (ζωή)” means life — life with character, not just biological life — and that’s not unintentional. Meaning is important; Mike and I both wanted to give our child the gift of a useful name. A name meant as a benediction. And that’s also fun to say.

My daughter flutters. She’s only existed since July, and yet the desire to live is there, part of the factory settings. She will enter the world wanting to survive. For a time, she will rely on her father and me to make sure she does so. And I hope someday I shall slice her apples and cheese and see her reaction to both. To show her the joy of little pleasures, new experiences, reasons to live.

Because sometimes the factory settings get skewed. I hope if my daughter is ever at the bottom of that well, she’ll know she can call us for help. Doesn’t matter the time or place.

We want her to live, to be happy, to find her own truckles.