Farewell Stephen Hawking
Nearly as long as I can remember, I have been a Stephen Hawking fan. While I often didn’t understand his scientific musings, I had an appreciation for his incredible mind and sense of humor.
A space nerd since birth, I enjoyed Hawking’s books and was thrilled by how he changed what we know about the universe. It was his mind that conjured up black holes and advanced our understanding of their role in space.
But I may remember him best by his appearances on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Simpsons.” Although he spoke in a robotic voice, he did it with verve and humor. In learning about him and his life, it always came across to me that he lived fully.
Hawking’s degenerative nerve disease began its attack when he was in graduate school and accelerated quickly. While he lost a lot of abilities (including having to use a device to communicate that was activated with a twitch of his eye), he outlasted all known cases of people living with the illness. His disabilities were many, including needing to use a wheelchair and requiring care.
A beacon of hope
Hawking was always a beacon of hope to me. While I struggled with my rheumatoid arthritis and losing physical abilities, I viewed him as a shining example of living well with disabilities and not in spite of them. With proper care and support, he traveled the world (including Antartica!), voyaged into weightlessness on a special plane trip, lectured in advanced astrophysics, made television appearances, and expanded our understanding of space and time. And he also had a family too! Really, not a shabby life.
If I ever think to myself that I can’t do something because of my RA or because I use a wheelchair, I just need to remind myself about Hawking. When he was diagnosed, it felt like a death sentence. But he lived vibrantly and for decades longer than expected. At first, he was trying to live long enough to complete his degree, but then there was so much else to do and explore.
The tenacity and curiosity to explore and learn more
I am astounded by his tenacity, especially because I feel so little attention has been paid to it. How does a man outlive a deadly neurological disease by 50+ years? I think it was a combination of things, such as his love of theoretical physics and his family. But I ultimately think it was a love of living, of exploring the universe in his mind and also his body (disability or not).
While I am inspired by his life, I know that Hawking was not a perfect person. I actually appreciate that because so many depictions of people with disabilities want to turn them into saints when really they are just people. He struggled as humans do. But he also lived an accomplished and full life. His foibles were a part of the journey, as they are for all of us. Hopefully, we learn from them and embrace them as part of our story of growth.
I teared up when I learned the news of his death. Not because I ever met him, but because he had made such an impression on me as a person who both struggled with chronic disability and illness while living ambitiously. These are the things I work to do, just in my own way.
So farewell Stephen Hawking. You will be missed and remembered. Your star shone bright and we are lucky to have shared time in the universe with you.
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