2.4 An Epitome of Courage

(We often tend to hide behind our weaknesses, disabilities, handicaps…. or mourn over them our whole life through. Dr Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest scientists of this century, did not do so. Inspite of suffering from a very rare and dreaded disease, Dr Hawking continued his research undaunted. His exemplary courage should inspire us to do our best even under trying circumstances. He passed away on March 14, 2018.)

Exactly 300 years after the death of the great scientist Galileo, Dr Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford, London on the eighth day of January 1942. Little did his parents know that one day their little boy would be hailed as one of the greatest scientists of this century. Neither could anybody imagine that his mind would soar up into space like light. More importantly, none could predict that he would be the very epitome of courage.

Courage is a wonderful thing. It is that quality, which makes people not lose heart when faced with a great calamity. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Dr Stephen Hawking, a living legend of Cosmology, is the very personification of courage and hope. Except his mind, his whole body is bound to a wheelchair, thanks to a cruel quirk of fate. Yet, he is one of the greatest scientists of this century.

 An average child, Stephen grew up to be a normal teenager, full of mischief and lots of love for music and mathematics. Even though his father wanted him to study medicine, he was bent on studying mathematics. The University of Oxford, at that time, did not have a course in mathematics so he opted to study physics instead.

At the age of 17, Stephen started noticing that he was becoming increasingly clumsy and even fell down a couple of times, for no reason. This perplexed him and he went to see his family doctor, who diagnosed him as suffering from an extremely rare disease – ALS or LOU Gehrig’s disease that affects the nervous system and eventually weakens all the muscles of the body. Stephen says that even as a child, his muscle co-ordination was nothing to write home about. He recollects that his handwriting would send his teacher into a fit of frenzy. Nor was he inclined towards sports. Nevertheless, this disease came as a bolt from the blue.

How much time he had left on this planet was very uncertain. The prognosis was bad and the doctors said they could not do much. Undaunted, Stephen decided to continue his research and even got engaged to a Jane Wilde. Hawking says that, ironic as it may sound, it is at this dismal stage, he began enjoying life the most. This he says was because he started living life for the moment and continued his doctoral research work with renewed vigour.

 In the meanwhile, the disease worked its way into Stephen’s body and left him disabled. He began studying the concept of “Black Holes”, to get his Ph.D. By this time, he was confined to a wheelchair and was rapidly losing control of his hands and speech. The study of “black holes” sparked his imagination with bright ideas. He made many epochmaking statements that shook established theories. Scientists believe that the universe began with a “Big Bang”. To explain this concept better, Stephen invented what is known as “Lie Algebra”.

Though confined to a wheel chair with no control over his body save a finger and with a computer to help him express his thoughts. Dr Hawking is an authority on profound subjects of science. Numerous honorary doctorates and awards have been bestowed on him. He is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

In spite of being considered Einstein’s equal in intelligence, Dr Hawking is a very humble man. A simple, down to earth man, he has authored many books dealing with his awesome ideas keeping a layman in mind. His writing is full of wit and humour. His style is so lucid that non-scientists can also understand him. His book, “A Brief History of Time” is one of the best selling books of our times.

 On being asked, how he feels about having the dreadful ALS, Dr Hawking, the quintessence of optimism and hope, says, “Not very different from the rest. I try and lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not many.” Dr Hawking firmly believes that in the next millenium, science will discover the core secrets of the universe, its origin, its history and maybe even predict its ultimate demise.

 Like Dr Hawking, there are many people who display exemplary courage in their lives. Let us salute all those brave people, who in spite of being disabled strive to do their best.