On Hawking and Words


Stephen Hawking’s death this week has forced those of us with physical, degenerative conditions to reconsider our limitations, and perhaps to recognise (at least some of) them as self-imposed. It has shifted our perception of our ability – indeed our obligation – to contribute as fully as possible to humanity for as long as we can. We always can.
As long as we have the power to communicate, we can reach people, and in that reaching we can be impactful. Our choice, then, is the level and nature of that impact. Hawking’s contribution to the world was one of intellect and the advancement of complex theory. Not all of us will be inclined towards such abstract musings, at least not in the meaningful way of Hawking and his peers. Yet we must acknowledge our potential for human interaction, either directly in speech and contact, or indirectly through the power of the written word.
Nowadays this written word permeates our social sphere to a far greater extent than it did during my own formative years. Writing was confined to books, letters and school for me and those raised in the surrounding era. Now we write, albeit somewhat more briefly, on a far more regular basis. Now we are invited to annotate our days with written commentary, and to contribute our opinions to the commentaries of others, summarised in an icon (like, dislike, wow!, angry, sad…) but with the option to expand on this selected state in a comment box. In our pockets we carry a device capable of capturing our immediate responses to life’s events (or non-events!) and we can react immediately in written – well, typed – word at the swipe of a screen.
We have, therefore, the tools for contribution to humanity at our disposal. We can use these wisely, kindly and productively, or we can be careless with them, recording and publishing our fight or flight responses to briefly stressful moments. We can impact on others in a way that is thoughtful, considerate, considered. Indeed, we must.
Like Hawking, I am resigned to the degenerative nature of my physical condition. Also like Hawking, there is a possibility of cognitive decline which accompanies my physical symptoms, and may or may not worsen over time. I will (in fact I do) forget conversations, events, tasks, and I have come to rely on the written notes of my life to scaffold my daily activities. Thus, writing is not only my means of connecting to others, but also of reconnecting with my own self; the self that made a promise three days ago; the self that must attend an appointment in two weeks from now; the self that paused in a moment of breath-taking gratitude at the beauty of my daughter, or the humour of my son, or the kindness of my husband, and wants to capture this lest it be confined to the swamp of an ever-declining memory.
So I write every day. I write in my journal – lists, plans, reflections – and I write this blog, and notes for a book that may or may not see the light of day; I write poems that reflect the course of my life and its minutiae in the hope of sparking recognition for those with similar life experiences. Regardless of how far or how well my body might be able to move, I will, through writing, continue to make connections and will continue to move in the world and have an impact, in some small way.

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