Saturday, 14 January 2012

Happy Birthday, Professor

Last Sunday, the most famous MND survivor and scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking was 70. He got MND 50 years ago. I was sent this report by a friend and fellow blogger, who commented on how inspiring his words were. "The severely disabled but always active and indomitable professor Stephen Hawking said on his 70th birthday: 'Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. ... Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up." 

"Professor Hawking reflected on his life as 'a glorious time to be alive'."

I love his sense of wonder. In one way or another, we can all share that, and the great thing is it doesn't depend on our physical (or intellectual, come to that) abilities. A child has loads of it. Somehow we lose the wonder muscle as we grow up. I suppose it's a case of atrophy from lack of exercise, but the muscle is still there and we can bring it back into use, given practice - and then what a wonderful world to be explored awaits us! 

As someone who was written off as terminal with only two years to live 50 years ago, he is eloquent evidence  as to why we should not rush to write people off as fit only for a lethal injection. "It matters that you don't just give up." And I'd add that Stephen Hawking matters, whether or not he succeeds at anything more; but he matters because there are those who care about him as a person they love - and that makes him infinitely valuable.

I don't think he's any less flawed than the rest of us. I don't think his great intellect grants him unique insight into the meaning of life, or the existence of a Creator. Cleverness has its limits. Science deduces from the physical, but some things like love and beauty aren't susceptible to that sort of investigation. We just recognise them. As we begin to deteriorate, mentally from the age of 45 we learned this week, our physical nature begins to decay. To be honest facelifts and botox only make matters worse. And yet we don't become any the less capable of loving and being loved. MND does rapidly - or gradually - ravage the body, but still one cares, is cared for and has a life to live. And, as I sit at my laptop in touch with friends on the other side of the world, I entirely concur with the professor: it is a glorious time to be alive.

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