I haven’t seen the new Hawking film, “The Theory of Everything.”
But the Stephen Hawking I met in “Hawking,” a 2013 film in which Hawking himself narrates the story of his life, is a man I won’t soon – or ever – forget.
At one point in the film, long after his body has become virtually useless due to the ravages of ALS disease, Hawking shares:
Because every day could be my last, I have a desire to make the most of each and every minute.
We are all different, but we share the same human spirit. Perhaps it is human nature that we adapt and survive.
This is a man who states he does not believe in any concept of a god or the afterlife.
So to Hawking, this life – one day by one day – is what each of us is given.
Today is the only “known” we have (and as such, the only “proof” we have to rely on that our life is even taking place!)
Hawking has three kids and has been married twice.
He has appeared on the “Simpsons,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Star Trek” (his favorite sci-fi show).
His book, “A Brief History of Time,” has been a worldwide bestseller for years.
To review all the awards and honors he has received would be – well – these have been catalogued quite admirably elsewhere.
But what inspires me the most is how clear it is that Hawking does not inhabit his body – rather, he inhabits his mind, his emotions (in the form of passion for living and for connecting people with the science he loves), and his relationships.
For someone like me, who spent two decades locked in battle with an eating disorder, trying to alter and change her physical shape and size in the interests of feeling worthy to live, love, contribute, and be, this is nothing short of mind-bending.
It is like – nearly impossible to wrap my consciousness around.
It is so amazing. So inspiring. So worth pondering.
He has a special chair and a special computer with a special voice software that speaks for him.
At age 73, he still gives lectures around the world, writes, mentors graduate students, and goes to work daily at Cambridge University (where he is the Director of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology).
In fact, colleagues say that his disease, which began showing itself in his early 20’s, may in fact be one of the reasons that Hawking’s mind has opened so widely and in so many unusual ways to the truths of the universe only he seems to be able to perceive and….even more importantly….prove and explain.
Watching Hawking as Hawking in “Hawking,” it is impossible to ignore the consistency of his zeal for life, for living, and for science.
This is not an actor, romanticizing life with ALS and a series of round-the-clock caretakers.
This is not a victim, moaning into the camera about how hard his life is and how unfair it is that he must live so constricted.
Aside from a brief glimpse into early depression (post-diagnosis depression is utterly to be expected), there is barely a mention at all of his behind-the-scenes physical and health struggles.
Hawking lives like a man who truly expects every breath, every word, could be his last one ever, and he doesn’t waste a one of them.
He clearly sets out to enjoy his life, to enjoy all of it – to have fun with the fame, the celebrity visits, the technological upgrades that give him greater access to communication – and he seems at ease with those around him, whether known or unknown to him personally.
Watching Hawking has given me a different type of perception of my own body.
At one point during the movie, I attempted to put myself in his eyes, to watch myself as he would perhaps see me.
My body is healthy. It is strong. It works quite well (limbs, check, hands, check, feet, check, speech, check). It does exactly what I ask it to do exactly when I ask it to do it.
What a blessing! What a gift!
Why would I want to change a thing?!
In an earlier blog post, I shared why I am afraid to die.
It was a revelation to realize – Hawking doesn’t seem to be afraid.
He seems to be eager to put it off as long as possible, eager to live and participate and soak up every morsel of “aliveness” that he gets, but maybe facing the threat of death for so many years has simply rendered it a non-issue in his life.
Maybe after a certain number of doctors and specialists tell you that you probably won’t live much longer, you just stop believing it. You stop worrying about it. You stop giving it any thought at all.
Maybe Stephen Hawking has fully imbibed the story I shared in the post “Every Day I Wake Up and Prepare to Die” – maybe he has learned precisely how to carry that bowl of water so not a drop falls – ever.
I feel like he may be just the mentor I have been seeking to help me over my fear-of-death hurdles so I can more fully enjoy my time to live.
Today’s Takeaway: If you can relate to sometimes feeling afraid of death, do you have any mentors who help to ease your fear – who inspire you to tackle it, discard it, look beyond it, accept it – whatever you are seeking? If so, I’d love to hear who they are and why/how they inspire you!