“Did you know,” Rufus said as he kicked a shard of white, sparkling gravel ahead of him, “that there’s a man so clever he can do a whole page of calculus in his head?”
“Wow.” I was nine. I had no idea what calculus was but the wonder in my older brother’s voice told me everything I needed to know about the magnitude of this feat.
I woke up to the news that Stephen Hawking has died. The world seems a little less bright, a little less clever this morning. I find myself not just saddened by the loss of a great mind but also for something we seem to be losing. For me, Stephen Hawking reminded me of a time when investigation of the universe for its own sake was worthy. When a wheelchair-bound scientist could be revered for his cleverness and inquiry. Certainly, for a time when people were famous for something, not merely famous.
More personally his death reminded me of something that has died in me this year: my sense of wonder. For as long as I can remember I have held the belief, deep at my core, that life is an adventure and, like all good adventures, it all works out in the end. Like a precious gem, I kept the idea inside me, taking it out from time to time to marvel at a universe set up especially for my entertainment and exploration. I passed the idea on to Josh, who despite the horrors of the last year, seems to have hung on to it until the end.
In the place where my gem once sat is the slithering, toxic notion that life might be an adversary, that the world is a dangerous place. The idea hisses and whispers to me that bad things happen to good people. It sneers at me and reminds me that there is no reason why clean-living kids get cancer while overweight, fast-food-bloated middle-agers get clean bills of health. It cackles and tells me that the bad people win and that inquiry is nothing without profit.
The thought leaves me bruised and cowed and unsure of my next steps. And it leaves me dreaming of a place where the likes of Josh, and Stephen Hawking, can spend an eternity revelling in questions and ideas and discovery. A place where they can look at the stars and not their feet.