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Stephen Hawking Is Dead: Now What?

March 14, 2018

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Stephen Hawking, whose mind was held by a body in long term failure, died at 75 yesterday. He had ALS, and had an extraordinarily long survival for someone coping with this malady for 50 years.

But longevity was not his only physical anomaly: the brain held by his ever-retreating bodily capacity was, by all accounts, at the top levels of capacity. He was said to be a genius.

He was also a living cultural icon. His silent face had a voice activated by some connection. His smile, growing to be more of a grimace, was fixed – but his eyes, often the last method of communication, were active.

Beyond brains and extreme courage, Hawking held the spotlight for 2 generations. His first, short, book on the nature of the universe was such a hit, and his physical reality was so different than expected, and he could talk with a great NPR English voice, and so clear and charming that popular culture grew to love him, even if they only pretended to understand what he was saying…

So, he came to advertise things. There were stories of relationship issues. There was a decade of books surfing the popularizing of atheism, along with some residual scientific insights. But that very good brain has now stopped, like all brains will.

I crank this morning, and every morning, on a body that occasionally betrays me by gaining fat when I eat a few dozen Triscuits and only exercise for an hour. But I did have a week, exactly a year ago, where my body simply lost capacity to process gravity: I had no balance. There was no dizziness, no paralysis, – nothing, but no sense that I, like everything else around me, was drawn to the earth’s core.

So I had my Hawking Moment. For a few days I had less than 1% of what he experienced for 50 years – my body was disconnected from my mind. My will meant nothing. I could not stand up and simply walk to the bathroom, I had to have assistance.

My body, literally, healed itself, apparently better than expected because of the 15 years or so that I have worked out with a devotion that facilitated blood flow that in turn meant no damage when a genetically compromised blood vessel burst. So my own predilections overcame the state of my body.

Just like Hawking – only he was extreme, I was just lucky.

But I have a deep faith that there is much I can never know. I am pretty sure Hawking felt the exact opposite. Time was his only enemy: the profession of ultimate incapacity was just one measure, but the inevitable death of the most genetically fortunate and diligently applied to their health leaves both he and me with one choice: assert the fact that I can know what this terrarium is and how it happened, or know that I cannot know, no one I know can know what the universe, or even gravity, actually is.

The only way to simply dismiss ignorance is to assert capacity: but none of us has that capacity. I will join Stephen in non-existence here sooner or later.
But dismissing facts is not science, it is argument. I dismiss no facts of Stephen’s life of being a public genius icon: but he dismissed Faith, including the facts of my faith.

I have no doubt his gifts where great things, but everyone faces the irony of diminishing capacity in the world where the vast majority of us blindly presume the gifts of capacity every day. It was a shock for me to have no balance, I knew what the science was, but I had no hopes or fears. I knew I would do as told and apply myself, and whatever happened, happened. No fear, no Googling, no theories, no real prayers beyond saying “thanks” and “sorry” like any other day.

I wonder how a human who came to be completely defined by the residue of a degrading machine came to see its final end. Just like everybody else. I hope he saw the beauty of the love so many have for him, and I hope he felt that love too.

Because it is the love we cannot define, or reason into manipulation that is the inevitable confrontation of death.

Knowing how the universe was made, or if there is God, does not change the universe: the universe and God is either a multiverse or a pathetic rationalization whether I live or die. Maybe if I lived forever I could be good with dismissing anything but me (because I do not die, dammit). But none of us live a whole lot longer than Stephen Hawking.

Dismissing the power of love and beauty dismisses, for me, God. There was no reason for those ragged rabble rousers to make up whatever happened 2,000 years ago when Jesus got killed and then something happened. Who knows what happened after, except that the historic odds are that something happened then, because a lot happened to a lot of people. But, like Hawking, I do not suppose or reason Faith into being, or comfort myself in connective history rationalizations -because the insight of Faith is nothing I did, or what was revealed to me by others, or history, or any argument or proof.

Faith, like gravity, just is; no “why’s” or “how’s”, but Faith is as much a fact as any of the infinitely intelligent, reasoned and described theories Hawking came up with. And all of those theories, all of them, relied on the fact of gravity he, and no one else has any understanding of beyond its measurables.

I am sure in his extraordinary facility of figuring out the ‘how’s” of so much else Stephen Hawking has left my capacity in the dust. But I do know that he and I share one, clear reality – neither of us is very good with the “Why” part – even in Lent..

That’s OK, I have faith, and I know Stephen was loved.

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