I cannot write the fitting tribute that Stephen Hawking deserves. Still, I would like to try. Impressive as his professional career was it cannot be overstated how inspirational of a man he was to the disabled community, which so often is overlooked and forgotten by society. It is astounding to me any man who could not control his own body and lacked the physical strength to even be able to speak could accomplish so much. He was told at the age of 21 that he had only 3 years left to live when he was diagnosed with ALS. Yet he managed to survive to the ripe old age of 76! It is impossible to review the span of his life and not be touched by the amount of adversity he had to overcome just to get through a day, much less make significant new discoveries in the way modern physics came to understand black holes.
Years ago, my husband actually saw Stephen Hawking. He was on a work trip in Phoenix, and had gone out with some of his colleagues for drinks one evening after their meetings. They were in a bar that was pretty much empty except for them, until Stephen FREAKING Hawking came in with his nurse. He had ordered a drink, and she was feeding it to him with a spoon. As it turns out, one of the men with my husband saved the fortunes from fortune cookies in his wallet. He would give them out to people if he had a fitting message for the moment. It happened that he had a fortune about the cosmos, and he took it over to Mr. Hawking and said a few words while my husband and the rest of their group looked on. Mr. Hawking seemed to genuinely appreciate the gesture and enjoy the fortune! How cool is that!?!
Being a genius is hard. Being a celebrity is hard. Being disabled is hard. Being a humble person is also extraordinarily difficult even in the most ordinary circumstances. To be a genius celebrity with humility and warmth to total strangers? That is something truly remarkable. Stephen Hawking managed to be all of those things at once.
He has been such an incredible example to so many, myself very much included. Despite all of his severe physical limitations, he was able to create a huge legacy not only in the scientific community, but also in the world writ large. He made his complex and visionary discoveries accessible to the general public. I can tell you, that when you are staring into the face of a life-altering illness or disability, there is no better example. He showed the entire world what is possible in the face of adversity. I hope that we can all take a little bit of his legacy of perseverance and find the inspiration to keep going when the going gets tough. So today, I would like to remember him for all of his contributions. The world is a better place for having had Stephen Hawking reside on our “minor planet of a very average star.”
I will close with this final quote from Stephen Hawking, “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”