However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” Stephen Hawking
I recently saw the movie “The Theory of Everything” about the life of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist. He was stricken at an early age with Lou Gehrig’s Disease which has confined him to a wheelchair and left him unable to speak. The above quote is used in the movie and delivered in a synchronized voice.
Hawking is the preeminent physicist of our time but the message I took from the film was not about the man’s mental powers but his message of hope and overcoming obstacles.
He was still in college when he got a prognosis of having only two years to live. After wallowing a bit, his eventual response was that he had to get busy since there was an equation that he wanted to come up with. Hawkins knew that he had to make the best of the time that he had left. Although he still hasn’t come up with a grand “Theory of Everything”, he did derive the following:
??? Me neither.
You Think You had a Bad Day?
We often get stymied by a “bad” day. We may not feel like going to work or painting. Stuff gets in our way. Yet Hawking remained motivated and productive even as he lost the ability to walk, then to move most of his body and then even his voice. He can only move a few muscles in his face now. How did he find the resolve to continue and prosper? His mind and his attitude.
“If one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be *psychologically* disabled as well.” Stephen Hawking
Hawking has a great sense of humor even in his condition. (“When I was twelve, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything. I don’t know if this bet was ever settled, and if so, which way it was decided…”). The movie depicts him goofing around in his wheelchair with his kids, acting like one himself to the consternation of his wife.
Hawking did not appear to be a positive thinking, yellow smiley face kind of guy. His is a practical form of positivity. There was always something he could do with his mind; there was always something that he could accomplished.
Hawking once got trapped trying to put his own sweater on when he still had limited use of his arms. Unable to move in his woolen prison or call out effectively, he remained still and came up with an idea for a new theory.
Even as Hawking continued to survive this usually fatal disease, there were many opportunities for others to invent machines and devices to help make his life easier and to allow his mind’s output to be continue to be captured. Thus Hawking has indirectly improved technology for others similarly handicapped. His voice synthesizer is currently manipulated by muscles in his cheek.
There are likely some things in your life that you really can’t do anything about. Hawking quoted his colleague Alan Guth “ the universe is the ultimate free lunch.” In other words, even just being here and having experiences is an opportunity that costs us nothing.
Instead of bemoaning your situation, make the best out of it. There is certainly no point in making the worst out of it. Because there is always something you can do. There is some action that lies within your abilities and talents that can be satisfying and make a difference in your life and in others.
“Can I Have a Little Hope Here?”
This isn’t about pretending to be happy all the time or using positive vibrations to control the future but very much about how we attend to the present. What can you do in this moment to make the most of this point of time? It starts with your mind, the attitude that moving forward is preferable to staying stuck in the place where you are now.
This also isn’t a screed about “there are those less fortunate than us”. Hawking surpasses most of us in so many ways. Most of us will not encounter obstacles as large as Hawking’s but we can at least exhibit a little bit of his resilience and hope.
“It matters if you just don’t give up.”
― Stephen Hawking