At the age of 21, Hawking started developing symptoms of ALS, or amyotrphic lateral sclerosis, a disease that doctors claimed would take his life in about two and a half years. Now 74, Hawking is a huge inspiration for those with disabilities, as he continues to teach, research, and provide profound wisdoms for the rest of us to ponder.
After his diagnosis, Hawking says that he had absolutely no expectations for life. But he didn’t let it deter him from doing his best to live fully and passionately. He has twelve honorary degrees and has built a life dedicated to the study of theoretical physics, including robust theories on creation, the Big Bang and the universe.
Depression is a subject that Hawking recently commented on at a lecture in London at the Royal Institute, likening the condition to a black hole:
“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up; there’s a way out”
Furthermore, when asked about his disabilities and the effect they have on his outlook on life, he responded beautifully:
“The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.While there’s life, there is hope.”
He would further this sentiment with a heartfelt message for those with disabilities like himself:
“If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. In my opinion, one should concentrate on activities in which one’s physical disability will not present a serious handicap. I am afraid that Olympic Games for the disabled do not appeal to me, but it is easy for me to say that because I never liked athletics anyway. On the other hand, science is a very good area for disabled people because it goes on mainly in the mind. Of course, most kinds of experimental work are probably ruled out for most such people, but theoretical work is almost ideal.
My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in. I have managed, however, only because of the large amount of help I have received from my wife, children, colleagues and students. I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as you possibly can.”
Watch Stephen Hawking’s lecture on how to escape a black hole in the video above and remember, “while there’s life, there’s hope.”