Hawking, Einstein, “It” and Us

Photo: Greg Rakozy

This morning, we looked at posts about Stephen Hawking on Instagram — photos, quotes. Though I will likely never grasp his teachings from a scientific standpoint, I will take to heart his teaching that this is it: We have no time to waste, and really no excuse for not trying.

My father, who was born just one year after Hawking, gave me “A Brief History of Time” when I was in high school. A couple of years ago when Aviva was maybe 13, she and I watched “The Theory of Everything” together. Given that none of us are scientists, you would think Hawking would be of less interest in a family of writers and musicians. But no, he captured her imagination just as he captured mine. And I know why: He modeled the impossible. He proved that our minds are capable of unfathomable intelligence, and that we could use this intelligence to further our understanding of existence, time, and space. He showed us that curiosity and perseverance could transccend physical limitations.

As a teenager, I had a big poster of Einstein on my bedrom wall. His white hair all akimbo in every which direction, his gaze would follow me around the room along with the words that imprinted themselves on my young brain:

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Today, Stephen Hawking died. And it’s Einstein’s birthday. I’m picturing them eating cake together, hoping we can collectively get our shit together down here.

Today, I will go to an elementary school for a walk-out to commemmorate the lives of children lost to gun violence in school shootings and protest gun violence.. Today, I will meet with Luping and speak English and look at photos of her one-year-old niece back in China. Today, I will help my son complete a first draft of an essay about gemilut hasadim — acts of loving kindness.

And I will wonder if it’s enough.

What more can I be doing? I will want to reach more people. I will want to make a bigger difference in this world strangled by greed and hatred. Yesterday. we went to see A Wrinkle in Time {spoiler alert}, and there is an image of the darkness literally wrapping around the earth. It will stop at nothing, and once it enters people, it becomes nearly impossible to root out. While I realize this is fiction, wow did it ever speak to me. I wanted to stand up in the theater to proclaim, “I’m here to fight the It!”

Alas, the “It” is not something out there in Hawking’s universe. The “It” is here. It’s here when our national priorities are so distorted and hijacked by narrow-minded thinking and a disdain for intelligent thought; it’s here in white supremacist narratives that encourage the dehumanization of people of color, immigrants, and non-heterosexual, non-cisgender, non-Christian people; it’s here in the lies we are literally sold on fake silver platters; it’s here in politicians who would sooner sell their souls that be accountable; it’s here in sex-trafficking of women and children, in the ripping apart of families through deportation and mass incarceration; it’s here in the opioid epidemic and big pharma; it’s here in white nationalism, front porch bombs, acquitted murderers on police forces, and blaming mental illness for shootings without putting more resources towards treating those with mental illness. This paragraph could go on for eons, bringing the space-time continuum to its knees in despair.

This is where we come in. It has to be.

So yes, lately, I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough. I survey my days: Writing groups, coaching, retreats, parenting, marriage, puppy preparation, Freedom School, what’s for dinner, another snowday, water the plants, blog posts, waiting for spring. It’s a lot, yes. And — I don’t want to be merely busy. I want it to matter.

The thing I have come to really see and accept — but need to touch every now and then to remind myself — is that nothing will ever be enough, and yes, it’s enough. Right?

The paradox is where we live, work, love, write, wrestle, learn, heal, and change.

The pain is too big, the needs too immense, to look at all at once. Like the sun, it could be blinding. But there are workarounds. Look to one side or the other, your gaze trained on one point. Every action, every word, every choice we make about how we spend our time here on this little planet matters. It has to.

When I need a good talking to, I often do it in the second person. It’s a way of tapping into my own knowing and communicating with my questioning self. And so comes this reminder:

Your voice. Not someone else’s. Not someone more qualified. Not someone with more experience. Not someone more articulate. Not someone more well-known. Not someone with a bigger platform or audience. Not someone smarter or more educated. Not someone who knows what they’re doing. Not someone with a prettier website or blog. Not someone who can say it better. Not someone else. Yours. You. Today is a good day to start, and an even better day to keep going.

If you’d like, you can also imagine that I’m talking to you. Because I am. You and I? We are the not the same, but we are also very much the same. And it’s to this paradox that I’ll dedicate this brand new day of writing and life, with a prayer that it can be enough.

Yes, there is violent opposition. Yes, there is darkness, so much darkness. Yes, there is fear and despair and urgency. Yes, it is tempting to shrink away, to give up, to succumb to hopelessness. But then I think of Stephen Hawking and I think of Albert Einstein, I think of Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, I think of women like Tanzie Youngblood, a retired teacher and first-time black female candidate running for Congress — who is being thrown under the bus by fellow Democrats, I think of the everyday revolutions in classrooms and places of worships and shelters and in public parks and the steps of Capitol Hill and in living rooms all over the country that we don’t read or hear about, I think of dissidents and labor camps and genocide and how many Americans live in abject poverty while we you can buy your way into positions of so-called leadership — I could go on and on.

I think of all of this. My head explodes, a hot star. I glance at the time and see that I need to go shower before walking up to my son’s school. I will not go gently. I will not give up.

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