Physicist Stephen Hawking takes time to meet with NM writer Paul Kahn.
When I learn that Stephen Hawking is coming to my part of the world, I decide to try to get an interview with him. He has set himself a very busy schedule, including three Loeb Lectures at Harvard University, seminars with the physics department and a popular science talk at the Wang Theater, a large venue in Boston. So I’m surprised when, after a prolonged exchange of e-mails, Hawking’s graduate assistant informs me that the world’s most famous and respected scientist with a disability has agreed to my request. As the time grows closer for me to keep my appointment with him at Harvard, I find myself both elated and frightened.
My elation seems natural to me. It comes partly from plain old celebrity worship, partly from the chance to encounter greatness, and more than anything from the prospect of finding a big brother in disability, one I can look up to and learn from.
My fear gives me more misgivings. First, I’m afraid of feeling inferior to Hawking. Most of us are taught as children to disavow the seemingly useless emotion of envy, but here I am beset by it. Second, and even more upsetting, his ALS scares me. I too have a progressive n