“We affected an air of complete boredom and the feeling that nothing was worth making an effort for. One result of my illness has been to change all that.” -Stephen Hawking describing his Oxford days in My Brief History
Most of us don’t flourish handkerchiefs like Hawking did when he was a student (which is a pity, really), but I see a lot of that feigned indifference. I see it in young people, brilliant and capable, who push their minds into whatever shallow advertisements are pushed toward them. I see it in people who can and who don’t, or who might and still don’t begin. I see it in myself. It’s tempting, oh so tempting, to not care. To stop trying. To pretend or try to believe that nothing’s worth making an effort for.
For me, I think, that comes from fear. Fear that my efforts wouldn’t be ‘good enough,” that I wouldn’t be suited to the task I took up. Fear that, no matter how well and how hard I work, I couldn’t make a difference. Not with what’s in front of me. I wonder if you ever find yourself in that place. If you do, I wonder what leads you there–and what leads you back out.
Hawking tells us what led him out. After he was diagnosed with the disease that took so much from him, he writes, “I dreamed that I was going to be executed. I suddenly realized that there were lot of worthwhile things I could do if I was reprieved.” Later he adds, “What really made the difference was that I got engaged to a girl called Jane Wilde, whom I had met about the time I was diagnosed with ALS. This gave me something to live for. If we were to get married, I had to get a job.”
We talk about what frightens us, but when Hawking saw the face of what he feared, he saw the stars behind it, too. He was going to die. Well, okay, but first he was going to live. Perhaps the opposite of fear is not courage. It’s hope. It’s love. It’s work for what you believe in. Hawking found someone he loved, and to marry her, he needed a job. That led to finishing his PhD, that led to his work. There was a world in front of him, and, for love and the chance at living, he set off into it in whatever ways he could.