I grew up in a world where Stephen Hawking was a fixture, a man that had and would always exist. My young brain perceived him to be as lasting as the very universe he studied, holding as much power, and as long an impact, as the stars.
But even stars don’t live forever. Eventually their lights dim and die.
I was and continue to be a huge science geek. Whilst I didn’t continue my formal science studies past Year 10, I have long maintained an enormous interest in science, and the incredible understanding it allows us to gain about our world and all the worlds beyond it. Dr Hawking and his work became a part of my love for science. But beyond that, Dr Hawking himself became something of a wonder to me.
As a young girl with big dreams and often very little hope of achieving those dreams, Dr Hawking was a reminder that no matter how rough things got, dreams could be achieved. Dr Hawking was dealt one of life’s toughest cards when he was diagnosed with a rare form of ALS at 21, and given two years to live. And yet, he persisted. He continued to do what he loved and what he wanted – pursuing the absolute reaches of knowledge and the universe.
It sounds cliché, but I often thought that if he could work through all the trials of his disability and the difficulties attached to not only work and excel in his field, but become a legend among the likes of Einstein, Darwin and Galileo, then there was nothing that could stop me from reaching my goals.
Stephen Hawking was the subject of many jokes for most of his life, his computerised voice perhaps the most imitated voice in comedy. But that very voice gave some of the best speeches of our time, and one of the most recognisable men by extension. And Hawking was no stranger to humour, often noted for his own wildly raucous sense of humour. Even with major paralysis to most of his body, he often cracked a smile at his own jokes in interviews and speeches. This is a man who knew how to live, even when the very act of living was a full-time job in itself.
Hawking made the best of a bad situation, devoting his life to learning and searching, something I value and admire more than anything. Hawking never stopped looking up and out, looking for answers he knew he might never get, but working towards those answers nonetheless. And he got a hell of a lot of answers. More answers than most of us could ever hope to gain or even understand as brilliantly as he did.
In his memorial statement regarding his friend, Neil deGrasse Tyson said “his passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty.” And he’s right, it’s not empty. Hawking paved the way for many people to continue learning, and in particular, helped pave the way for people with disabilities and impairments to gain access to opportunities that weren’t always open to Hawking himself.
There’s no other way of putting it: Hawking was a goddamn legend of astronomical proportions. He helped us understand our universe, and more than that sparked a curiosity in so many of us that continues to fire our desire to learn.
All the times we felt like we felt we weren’t good enough, Hawking was there to tell us that “the universe doesn’t allow perfection” so not to worry. Whenever we felt small, Hawking was there to remind us that “we are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
We are better for living in a world that had Stephen Hawking in it, and his absence will be felt across the stars.
Vale Dr Hawking. You will be so greatly missed.
© Hayley New 2018