Stephen Hawking (1942 — 2018)
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
— Stephen Hawking
Death gives us an opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective.
While he was alive for 76 earth years, astrophysicist-cosmologist-mathematician-author-teacher-husband-father Stephen Hawking gave everyone a much broader perspective. More important, his thoughts and theories will usher in a greater understanding of the universe long after his death and we are long gone.
I’ve never been good at science. Or, math. Those subjects were always difficult for me in school. That’s why I admire those gifted individuals who excel in the sciences and in math. People who work in those fields sometimes come up with amazing ideas that I could never imagine, let alone understand. Science and math may claim its findings are based solely on fact. However, the greatest discoveries begin with a combination of curiosity and rebelliousness.
I wish there was sufficient time and opportunity to devote to a better understanding of science. Like most ordinary people, I don’t have what it takes to be someone like Hawking — or Einstein or Newton. Thankfully, Hawking understood this lapse better than most and did his part to bridge the abyss. That’s one reason he wrote his landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which was the first widely-popular book on science I ever read. Hawking expressed his complex ideas about the universe, astronomy, and physics in non-technical, easy-to-understand language. Well, easier to understand, for some. Translated into more than 40 languages, his vast concepts and emerging rock star status inspired a whole new generation of young people all over the world to begin asking their own questions about the origins of the universe and the nature of our modern world.
Hawking didn’t just teach us about science. He taught us things about humanity and being human, too. It’s easy to forget Hawking was a man. He was a man with flaws and failings and frailties — much like everyone else. He had kids. He had affairs. He went through divorces. He could be tempestuous. He was an imperfect man, which was no big surprise because all men — indeed all people — are imperfect.
There was such a defiant incongruity to Hawking, with the mind of a giant encased in the feeble frame of a fragile body scarcely able to carry the burden of his weight, nor the greater calling of innate responsibility that goes with such a rare gift of insight. It was as though the secret key to understanding the mysteries of the universe were sewn inside his jacket pocket and no one could reach it.
The contradiction between mind and body was a cruel irony. Contemplating fully the human struggle of making it through a day, interminably uncomfortable, often distracted by aches and pains, unable to communicate without the assistance of electronics, the constant reliance on others for sustenance, is almost too much to contemplate. Complete paralysis from ALS since the mid-1960’s during most of his adult life made his tireless work ethic and ultimate discoveries all the more astounding.
Even his personal tastes were paradoxical. He loved and often listened to the classics of Richard Wagner while he worked, presumably absorbed in the imaginative role of a operatic superhero vanquishing the forces of calamity. In both fantasy and reality, he sought to create order out of chaos.
Indeed, death does allow for reflection gives greater perspective. While the world continues to spin and species will evolve, we should freeze a brief moment in time in our lives to honor Hawking and think about how amazing he truly was. When we look for heroes, we shouldn’t be thinking about sports stars and celebrities. Instead, we should be revere the late Stephen Hawking who told us adapting to change was the highest virtue.
His story and struggle showed, Hawking didn’t just say those words. He lived them.