A few weeks ago the world lost Stephen Hawking, a renowned theoretical physicist, author, & retired Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Britain’s Cambridge University. Hawking was considered one of the most intelligent people in the world, but famously suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (aka ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) from the age of 21. At the time he was given two years to live, but defied the odds by sticking around until he was 76 years old.
Though I consider myself a fairly intelligent man there is no way I’d ever place myself anywhere in the vicinity of Stephen Hawking’s league. The man was a scientific genius. However, I do know a little bit about living with a disability and therefore shared a kind of kinship with Hawking. I have been blessed that being “handicapped” has not precluded me from being reasonably independent, driving a vehicle, holding a job, communicating, etc. There are challenges & limitations, but, like many folks dealing with a disability, I have discovered workarounds and figured out how to live my life, deal with obstacles, & have some semblance of normalcy. I have no clue what Stephen Hawking faced on a daily basis. I’m sure life wasn’t necessarily easy, but he certainly seems to have dealt with his difficulties admirably and undeniably achieved tremendous professional success.
Because of this “connection” with Hawking I was intrigued by actress Gal Gadot’s comments in the wake of his death and the backlash she received. Gadot portrays Wonder Woman in the DC Extended Universe and has become a fairly big star in recent years. After Stephen Hawking died Ms. Gadot tweeted “Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever.”, which seems like a rather respectful tribute in my humble opinion. However, The Thought Police reigned down swift & harsh judgment upon Gal Gadot. She was accused of being an “ableist”, which is apparently someone who discriminates against those of us with disabilities. People implored that we “don’t describe Stephen Hawking as having overcome his disability” and opined that we shouldn’t “talk about Stephen Hawking’s disability like it was a tragedy because it wasn’t…disabilities are not tragedies.” Some pointed out that Hawking’s illness “didn’t stop him from changing the world”, which is a fair point. It was also stated that “people with disabilities don’t wish for death to be free of their challenges…we wish to be valued for what we can do, not pitied for we can’t”, which is true. Another keyboard warrior said that “disablement is not shameful, bigotry is”, while someone else added that “the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 70-80% and the idea that disabilities are scary things to be freed from is a big reason why.” Someone whimsically opined that “with a mind like his he had no physical constraints…he took trips through space, time, & dimensions that we could not even imagine”, which must mean that I can cancel my plans to someday vacation in Hawaii because since I’ve already dreamed about it in my mind that’s just as good as actually being there.
Anyone who knows me or has read much of what I’ve written in the past decade knows that political correctness not only isn’t my thing, but that I despise it with a passion. I’m 45 years old and have been disabled all of my life, but I am not at all familiar with terms like “ableist” or “disablement”. When I was a kid people like me were referred to as crippled, but at some point that became offensive and was replaced with the word handicapped until that also became frowned upon. A few decades ago there was an effort to promote the terms handicapable and differently abled, but they fizzled out quickly because they’re stupid. I am more offended by people who twist themselves in knots trying not to offend anyone than I’ve ever been by allegedly offensive terminology. In this scenario I have no issue with Gal Gadot, but feel like those criticizing her really need to lighten up & get a life.
Here is the truth…straight from a guy who has lived with a disability for over four decades. The fact is that having a disability is tragic. The fact is that it is something that one must overcome on a daily basis. The fact is that acknowledging someone’s disability is not bigotry…ignoring it completely is much more frustrating. There is a fine line between acknowledgement of the situation & ignoring the facts, but any adult with an ounce of common sense ought to be able to strike the right balance. Stephen Hawking did overcome his disability and changed the world, accomplishments for which he should be celebrated. Using his God given talents he was able to make contributions that are valued…something that not everyone can say about their life, whether they are disabled or not. I am quite sure that folks felt a sense of pity toward him, but many more had enormous respect for his intellect, skill, & scientific influence. Yet, despite all of that, the fact is that he did have physical constraints. Anyone who disputes that is being obstinate & irrational. What I always say about myself is that my disability does not define me but it is an undeniable part of me. Gal Gadot simply acknowledged the facts of Stephen Hawking’s life, but at the same time she also recognized his “brilliance & wisdom”. I’m not sure how anyone could take issue with that.
The Biblical book of Revelation says that in Heaven “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes…there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” The Bible tells of numerous instances where God miraculously enables the blind to see, the deaf to hear, & the lame to walk. Christians believe that in Heaven there is no illness or disability. The real tragedy…in my opinion…is that Stephen Hawking was an atheist who referred to Heaven as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark” and believed that “there is no God…no one created the universe & no one directs our fate.” So, instead of quibbling over politically correct buzzwords or virtue signaling against a well-meaning actress, perhaps we should understand the reality of Hawking’s life…and his death.