"A Brief History of Time," this guy's best-seller science book, sits beside our bed. His vision of the world -- black holes, the big bang, time, space, speed of light ... I turn the page (mostly I have to go back and read it again), and after a page or two, I'm sleepy and turn off the light. Much of what's in this book I sort of grasp, but I can't really feel what it means.
What I do understand is what life is like for Hawking. His situation is worse than paraplegia. After a head-on collision, I was a partial paraplegic, paralyzed from the waist down. It took me -- wow -- a long time, money, prayers, a lot of doctors, 125 exercises twice-a-day for two years, and every ounce of will power to keep at it, to regain normal bladder and bowel control ... standing ... walking, and yes, re-learning basic ballet, and finally dancing.
Well, next to Stephen Hawking, what I did was "easy as pie."
He was born in 1942. He's 69. Exceptionally smart, always interested in math and science, he got a B.A. degree at Oxford in 1962. He planned to stay there and study astronomy, but impulsively, left for Cambridge (their observatory had better equipment), and got involved with theoretical astronomy and cosmology.
At Cambridge (around age 22), he started developing symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), a type of disease which cost Hawking almost all neuromuscular control. Even so, despite almost overwhelming limitations, he began working on his Ph.D.
Today Hawking, one of the world's most famous, important, theoretical physicists, is almost completely paralyzed from ALS. He needs an electronic voice synthesizer, in order to communicate.
Because of what it took for me to become my husband's lover again, I wonder about Hawking's private life. He married and had three children (successful adults now); he divorced, and married his nurse. Could he, did he, does he have a sex life? Yes, I think about things like that, but erase them from the blackboard of my thoughts -- there are many things about Hawking (and me) that are much, much, MUCH more important.
Like Newton and Einstein, this man has been opening the world's eyes. Today, Stephen Hawking is on the Discovery Channel. He created and recorded a 10-part series for them, that you can also download and see whenever you're in the mood. In the "The Story of Everything," Hawking explores time, travel, and the origins of the universe, and recently added an episode, "Fear the Aliens," about predators on a distant terrestrial planet.
Like a mind-reader, Hawking asks questions about things we wonder about -- for instance, what is a black hole? what's ahead for our planet? With clear sentences and marvelous music, photos, and filmed visions of the universe, he enlightens us, and entertains all of us, oldsters and youngsters.
Lou Gehrig started losing his strength at 36. He was diagnosed at 39, died at age 42, calling himself "The luckiest man on the Face of the Earth."
I recently wrote a post about religion -- and the comfort people I know get from the idea of life after death. Last month, Hawking said, "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or after life for broken-down computers. that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
It comforted me, as I explained in my post, "What if there's no hell."
Lucky, lucky us -- we still have an alert Stephen Hawking observing the world, and excitedly sharing with us, thrilling us with what he's still learning.