I consider myself to be pretty fortunate. It’s not that I have led a seamless life. It’s not that they had a canteen of silver spoons at the ready to shove into my gaping, greedy mouth at birth, it’s certainly not that life has dealt me no challenges. Not at all. I’ve lived a life. On occasions a seat of my pants-on-fire scorching my behind sort of life. But the thing is this. I embrace the challenges, I smile at the misfortunes because they make me the person I am now and they led me to where I am now and in the great scheme of things I am pretty damned prosperous …. which is not to say monetarily rich. I do not measure wealth and success in pecuniary increments. So although I may not do it immediately, I do always search for whatever the mechanism is that works to put whatever the adversity may be in a positive place and I do always get there in the end.
Around two months ago I went back to France for a quick visit to make sure my plants weren’t expired in my flat and my car hadn’t entirely given up the mechanical ghost. From there I flew to England to make less necessary checks on my ludicrously independent and gloriously enduring mother. And my daughters (the three out of four who live there) came and visited. One daughter (one more than I might expect) said it was a shame I wasn’t staying longer. I explained that I had an important follow-up appointment with my physician after my oncologist had delivered her verdicts. This left the said daughter entirely unmoved (we lived my cancer a few years ago which is hard on children of any age and it’s easier for them to button their ears to any talk of the on-going care I have, easier to imagine I am now immune. I am, after all, their indestructible mummy). So I mentioned an appointment with a bloke the same afternoon. This had the said girl-child herding me tout de suite to the airport to ensure I did not miss this incredible, enviable and priviliged opportunity.
So who was it that so impressed a 20-something? Who could it possibly be? Royalty? No. Hollywood A-lister? Nope. Rock legend? Nah. I cogetated this and I realised that there are only a tiny handful of people who could possibly engender such a response from pretty much anyone. A response that is mid-way between hugely impressed and achingly envious. The Pope might be one. The Queen of England another. The third and in this case the actual is Stephen Hawking.
I am seldom lost for words. This is a trait. A personality thing. I’m articulate and gregarious when the need arises. I write words down too and from time to time I believe they are almost coherent. But this day. April 19th 2016. In Cambridge Massachusetts I was humbled to the point of speechless. I had no concept of what to expect. The preparation that goes into getting this man into a room however big or small is immense. The deference with which he is treated I would mostly sneer at since essentially the circus is just that, an act put on for an audience who need to believe that this person is not of the same world as the rest of us. But in this case it is entirely justified. That he gave a talk that I mainly understood even though it was to an assemblage peppered with the greats of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Harvard University; that he is brave enough to sit before any gathering, withered in his chair and at the effect of software to speak the words he has written for the occasion and the pregnant pauses in delivery that are inherent in the system; that he has such a self-depracating sense of humour. All of this I had not imagined even though I imagine I have quite a fertile imagination. I simply had not gone there. Which is the point. This is a man whose life should have been at it’s end at 21 years of age. He says everything else has been a bonus. And he has taken that bonus and run with it. I felt the withered insignificant teeny tiny little squib in the room. This was like listening to God (I have my own mish-mash belief system that does not allow for a single deity and which I need not share since it is merely mine). I came out of that room entirely changed. A better person. Purer. Which is the other point … the title of this weeks photo challenge is Pure. And this man, with his failings, with his warts, with his reliance on science to keep him going is about as pure a mind as I have ever encountered.
The picture I have selected to illustrate this fact is taken at altitude above San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. HB² (my husband to the uninitiated) built a tiny observatory there some years ago simply because he could. I love this. Just do it. Because you can. That is the Hawking way. You can if you will. Stephen Hawking may not have visited this observatory but he will surely know that you need the purest atmosphere to observe the stars. To find the answers he seeks. The answers we all silenty crave. The observatory is in the picture but you may not be able to see it. A man like Hawking sees what we cannot see, makes sense of what we cannot make sense of, delivers it to the world in a form that from Nobel Prize Winners to young children everyone can have a piece of. And that, if I may is pure genius.
And of course PS: Hawking is responsible for the quote in the title ‘Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free’ (‘How to Build a Time Machine’, 2010)… and that freedom is purety incarnate, surely and defines what I feel makes ME fortunate.
You can find all the other, laudible entries to the challenge ‘PURE’ right here