Today we lost not just one of the greats: we lost one of the greatEST, in all human history.
I’ve spoken to many people who dislike praising Stephen Hawking because of certain political positions he held, some of which I disagreed with myself. But I ask you to put that aside for a moment, and recognize that a person is not defined by particular idiosyncrasies, but rather by the sum of their parts. And Stephen Hawking was a man whose physical parts were broken by ALS in ways that even I and most chronically ill people can barely comprehend. What he did within the confines of those limitations is beyond extraordinary – and today, I hope you will celebrate the life of a uniquely powerful and determined mind trapped in the physical destruction of a vicious and unrelenting disease.
Hawking’s contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum mechanics are essentially unparalleled. His book “A Brief History of Time” is a wonderful window into these contributions as expressed by one of the deepest of thinkers and most powerful of educators. As Hawking’s muscle control continued to decay, he wrote entire books using just the muscle of his cheek to get the right letter, sometimes only faring as well as one or two words per minute. To anyone who has used an Apple TV remote, you know how wildly infuriating it is to even type out an entire YouTube title by scrolling through individual letters – now imagine writing an entire original book about astrophysics. Using your cheek. It honestly puts me to shame, as I struggle to challenge my old ways of writing music to find new ways to create. But Hawking showed that it is possible, through the heroic task of staring disability and obscurity in the face and typing out a loud and stunningly clear: “No.”
Stephen Hawking showed people like me, and the entire world, that even the most profoundly disabled can change the world in unimaginable ways – even if it’s done one cheek muscle twitch at a time. I am more grateful than I can express for his many lessons, in science and in life, and will always strive to follow his example.