“It matters that you don’t just give up”

Those who know me well know that I come from somewhat humble beginnings. That’s not to say that my upbringing didn’t serve me well in terms of observing first-hand the value of a strong work ethic. My parents slaved tirelessly working multiple full-time blue-collar jobs to afford to live in a relatively affluent area so that their children might realize a better future, which we now gratefully enjoy. Most significantly, this impressed upon me a system of values to which I can attribute much of my more recent accolades.

As a result, however, when I was growing up it was difficult for me to relate to peers much more fortunate in terms of financial security. My worldview was somewhat removed from those with ample time for more scholarly pursuits. However, in my teen years, I met a young man who introduced me to poetry, high art, music, and literature. This man – who I ended up marrying several years later – taught me the value of using the resource of one’s mind as a tool to gain new perspectives. Exemplary of this was when he lent to me his copy of “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking.

In my coming-of-age, I was constantly trying new things out. I was seeking an identity that felt genuine. One matter upon which I was often ruminating was that of my faith. Further, I was uncertain how my religious beliefs – or lack thereof – fit into the context of a flourishing interest in subjects based on pure reason. It was therefore timely for me to delve into Professor Hawking’s book. In “A Brief History of Time”, he provides not only an excellent review of how we understand the physical universe but also comments on the implications of making connections between faith and science. It is this part that helped me come to terms with my own definition of God. Professor Hawking, in short, inspired me to generate a unique meaning for faith – one much broader than what I had learned from traditional religious practice and one based on my experience as a student of logic.

To better understand the connection upon which I landed, I quote the philosopher Alan Watts:

“[Faith] is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.”

In the wake of Hawking’s death, I remember this as one of the more impactful experiences of my youth. I also look to the future with further inspiration to share my science in ways that a greater number of citizens can relate. Stephen Hawking excelled at this, and I can only hope to be a fraction as successful in my own pursuit to become a scientist and science communicator.

As the great physicist said,

“Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the Universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

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