REASONS TO LIVE
We live because life is given to us. During childhood it seems obvious why we live, but during youth and adulthood many times we question or wonder what we live for. Some special moments let us think about the real purpose we have to live, a reason that can give meaning to our existence. Some of those moments can be birthdays, new stages, moments of crisis, or a new year. These are the moments where we have the urge and the opportunity to reinvent our life with new purposes, and reasons to live with hope and noble expectations for a better life.
During decisive moments, when we face severe difficulties challenging our own existence, it is not strange if we wonder how long we are going to live. That is the case of many individuals diagnosed with infirmities that, apparently, offer not much hope. Like the one diagnosed to Stephen Hawking in 1963, at age 21, called Motor Neurone Disease, which still has no cure. So far 50% of the cases die within 14 months of being diagnosed, and the rest die after few years; only 5% or less live for more than a decade.
Stephen Hawking, —as many individuals with a similar diagnosis—did not sleep very well at night.
"The realization that I had an incurable disease, that was likely to kill me in a few years, was a bit of a shock. How could something like that happen to me? Why should I be cut off like this?"
However, we all know that this young man married, got a PhD, and continued working as a professor, doing research and publishing scientific material giving him status as a cosmological genius worldwide. Before, he thought his life was very boring, but soon after leaving the hospital with the awful diagnosis there was a tremendous change:
"I suddenly realized that there were a lot of worthwhile things I could do if I were reprieved. Another dream, that I had several times, was that I would sacrifice my life to save others. After all, if I were going to die anyway, it might as well do some good. But I didn't die. In fact, although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research, and I got engaged to a girl called Jane Wilde, whom I had met just about the time my condition was diagnosed. That engagement changed my life. It gave me something to live for."
After half a century, since the diagnosis, we can say that love gave him a reason to live. Love changed his life. He didn’t sink into a hole of desperation. He kept struggling and thinking. And slowly a sense of purpose emerged to do some good, and he dreamed to sacrifice his life to save others. He didn’t know how his future was going to evolve, however, he started to enjoy life, and began to make progress with his research. He ignored how he was going to face the future, but—surprisingly—he was enjoying life more than before!
In Prof. Hawking’s website there is this explanation of how he feels and thinks about his illness: "The answer is, not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many."
He doesn’t think too much about his condition! Isn’t it amazing? Also not having a negative sentiment or regrets about things he can not do, shows a good attitude. His later interpretation is:
"I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a very attractive family, and being successful in my work. This is thanks to the help I have received from Jane, my children, and a large number of other people and organizations. I have been lucky, that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope. "
Here we have another relevant answer: One need not lose hope. Few people can consider themselves perfect, most have some visible or invisible disability, but there is no reason to lose hope. We must have hope always. We are sustained for a power of life bigger than what our mind can think. The power of life is superior to any apparent disease. Love is stronger that death, love can give a reason to live. Love for family, friends, nature, art, love for everything including our enemies. Love can let happiness emerge in the middle of any difficult situation. Nothing can stop love.
Based on Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, there is a film I used to show to my students, to encourage them not to accept limitations in life. From time to time, when experiencing a sense of frustration or feeling defeated, I remind myself about it, and continue working and having projects that give me not one reason to live, but many reasons.
We have to remind ourselves that it is never illness or physical limitations which determine our future, but our reasons to live, as demonstrated by people like Kant, Beethoven, Helen Keller, and others. Considering the exceptional life of cosmologist Stephen Hawking, we can remind ourselves that it doesn’t matter how insurmountable problems may appear. Doesn’t matter what we have to face. We can reinvent ourselves, never lose hope, avoid negative sentiments or regrets; doing that can lead us to a wise attitude, and in giving ourselves a reason to live, the future will open to surprising possibilities.
The beginning of the year can be a good moment to reinvent ourselves with fresh reasons to live, better than ever. Yes, we can all be triumphant and have a life happier than before!
© Pietro Grieco