“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
– Stephen Hawking
With the passing of Stephen Hawking at age 76, I am reminded of the power of one person to transform tragedy into a lifetime of goodness. Diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) at 21, doctors estimated Hawking had only two years to live. Instead of preparing to die, Hawking prepared to live. He continued working toward his doctorate in physics. It is a testimony to the strength of Hawking’s spirit that he didn’t ditch his plans. I dare say most of us would have given up on any future we had once envisioned.
Friends facing a journey similar to mine and Martin’s often point out something that is beautiful underneath all the challenges confronting us. Their inspiration comes from the movie Collateral Beauty. My inspiration comes from them. As one-half of this couple philosophized, sometimes you have to unwrap all the layers of ugly before you find the beauty underneath.
Most of us think of the opposite term ‘collateral damage’ as in someone innocent or a bystander is hurt or even killed. Seldom do we recognize good things that come out of negative events in our private lives. Now looking for the good has become a personal quest. Consequently, I’ve taken to calling the good things ‘collateral goodness’.
Obviously, Hawking outlived the prediction of an early death by decades. He also outperformed colleagues becoming renowned throughout the world for many accomplishments, both professional and personal.
Hawking believed we have only one life, one chance to put our dent in the universe. He did not let unexpected tragic circumstances deter him. He willed himself to be motivated. Without the tragic diagnosis handed him, he may never have achieved the greatness of his life. By continuing his education, he continued to give his life meaning and purpose for however long it lasted. When it lasted beyond earning his doctorate, he forged ahead with his professional and personal life.
Meaning and purpose are a powerful influence for overcoming life’s ugly moments. Whatever you may experience in retirement or any other moment in life, as Hawking once said, “It matters that you don’t just give up.” None of us know how long we have. What we do know is we have the ability to unwrap any ugliness layer by layer until we find the collateral goodness underneath.