Friday, March 16, 2018
This week’s news about Stephen Hawking should not have taken me by surprise. Most who know anything about him are aware of the decades he lived with the motor neuron disease we call ALS. He suffered physically for longer than I’ve been alive, and so one might think that would cause preparedness. Somehow, though, his strength and resilience etched for me an image of invincibility. No matter that most of what he studied and said remains beyond my comprehension, I hadn’t contemplated a world without his physical presence. The man who The Times described as a “world-famous theoretical physicist who could not move his body but whose mind wandered the universe and thought in 11 dimensions”, was a significant part of our global conversation and spatial understanding, and so I am one of countless feeling grateful for his unique, uniquely gifted voice.
Perhaps it’s a little counter-intuitive (and maybe even surprising to me, too) that this space would reflect on a self-proclaimed athiest. As Stephen Hawking made plain many times, he fundamentally rejected what he described to The New York Times as a conventional notion of God or a creator, and yet he did believe that both the universe and life have meaning. I would have loved to ask him more about that – and in the course of it all, I would have wanted to tell him most how much I respect his courage; his enduring courage to live life, in the face of death.
I came to know of his courage more fully through “The Theory of Everything” – the movie, not his own complex work by the same name. Shortly after its release in 2014, I went to see it with our eldest, along with his close friend, and his close friend’s mother, who happens to be a treasured friend of mine. More than your average mother-son evening, it was an inspiring foray into the humanity of Stephen Hawking, who also happened to fuel and lead such depth of research. As all good biopics should, it opened my heart that much more for what is too often underestimated.
At the end of the evening, I found myself thinking about Stephen Hawking, but also the friend who sat beside me in the theatre. She’s no physicist, and might laugh at the notion, but she is a person of equal courage and conviction. In her own way, with her own circumstances, she has not only survived but truly thrived in the midst of tragedy. She has chosen not to let the unchosen become her identity, and she has done/continues to do it all with great humility and honesty.
My friend is a Christian. Stephen Hawking was not. I understand one far more than the other. But I also understand that I must, or at least I’m working on the soul posture that allows me to embrace both with equal gratitude – for what they and those akin to them teach us all along the way. Some we meet through print and screen; some through life-giving friendship; but all of God’s people are with us in some form of relationship. We cannot separate ourselves from them, nor they from us…which is not quite a theory of everything, but it is getting closer to the courage-bound Love that Jesus came to speak, again.
With love to you all,
“Jesus Christ is calling, calling in the streets, ‘Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.’
Listen, Lord Jesus, let my fears be few. Walk one step before me; I will follow you.” (John L. Bell
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