For all the dazzling brilliance that Stephen Hawking displayed and all the visionary theories that he propounded for the benefit of mankind, what strikes me as most remarkable about his life is the unstinted will power that he possessed. The news of his passing this week, at the age of 76, came with a sense of inevitability, yet a sense of loss at the extinguishing of a lamp of remarkable lustre.
There is no greater testimony to his indomitable spirit than the fact that doctors had foretold a remaining life span of only two years for him when he was diagnosed with a debilitating ailment, yet he lived for 50 more years. And the fact that he lived a life of shine and gloss while suffering from an incurable disease is an exemplification of his undaunted courage. As a scientist himself, Hawking could understand each horrific detail of his medical condition, but never did he flinch from the thought of death.
His towering stature despite being confined to a wheelchair and to artificially- enabled functioning for several of his body parts, is as inspiring as can be. But from his none too outstanding school record, to his never having received the Nobel prize, several happenings of his life point to the dramatic and topsy-turvy existence.
A 2014 Hollywood film on Hawking, ‘The Theory of Everything’ in which Eddie Redmayne portrayed the pain and joy of being Hawking magnificently, brought us much closer to him. The scene in which he first discovers that he has Motor Neuron Disease as he falls and knocks his head hard on the floor, is touching and shocking at the same time. His theses on ‘Time’ and ‘Black Holes’ as well as many of his later life researches came much after his physical nerves began to give up on him.
But Hawking held his nerve in every sense of the word and dazzled the world, sometimes in irreverent ways. His most famous quote went like this- “We are just a slightly advances breed of monkeys on a minor planet, orbiting an average star!” Hawking is joined in the annals of history by such amazing winners as author Helen Keller who was deaf-blind, artist Vincent Van Gogh, who was mentally ill, composer Beethoven, who was deaf, and even Albert Einstein, who was chronically ill for more than half of his life. All these greats had the inner resolve to vanquish whatever afflicted them and come out trumps in telling ways! Will power is the one significant quality that sets apart the truly great achievers from the rest of the pack. Talent is secondary, so is luck. It is the inner grit, determination and refusal to buckle that ensures victory over all of life’s many obstacles.
The man on the street who is otherwise physically healthy does not usually have the belief in himself to attain great heights in the career of his choice. He is at times cynical, seldom hopeful, and always under-achieving. Former volleyball player Arunima Sinha is another such example of inspiration. Having lost both her legs in a tragic train accident, she gritted her teeth, refused to accept defeat, and became a successful mountaineer, with artificial limbs.
Will power has also been mentioned in the scriptures as that one quality which every human being needs to develop and cultivate. There is nothing that can be achieved without it, even to lift the arm one needs will power. But it is when the odds are against one and fear besets the being that one really need to draw upon inner reserves of will power to come out trumps.
Champions of life like Stephen Hawking are rare and their lives thus need to be written about more and more. All the young people out there who think that the world is a disaster and life is impossible, need to be inspired by the likes of
Hawking. So let us celebrate his life and not mourn his death. Let us seek further inspiration from his own words- “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you
don’t just give up!”