Professor, you will be sorely missed now that you have crossed the event horizon.
It seems fitting that I heard of your passing away while in the physics lab. After all, you are part of the reason why I was there in the first place.
You see, I came to know you during my middle school years. Thanks to my dad who would ceaselessly talk about the sciences and often tell tales of remarkable men and women who shaped our understanding of the world. Somewhere amidst his anecdotes on the likes of Galileo and Einstein, he mentioned you.
He told me you were a pioneering soul, and your works have greatly contributed to our understanding of the cosmos. Dad told me that you had authored a great book, titled A Brief History of Time
, and that I should read it. I obliged. It was one of the better decisions of my life.
Boy, did this book of yours leave an impression on me.
I understood precious little of what you said but read on, engrossed anyway. I travelled with you to the unfathomable voids of space and beheld monstrous black holes, rode beams of light to the instance of creation, peeked at the heart of matter, witnessed God play dice, and exorcised Laplace’s demon.
I witnessed electrons suffering from identity crisis, ascended to higher dimensions, and observed matter warp space out of shape. But my wings grew weary, and I could not keep up with your soaring mind then.
However, you were a kind guide and pointed me to the path on which I am now.
Though your departure is mourned today, it is your legacy that will be celebrated in the years to come. In hushed whispers, and reverent tone people will tell and retell the story of a man who refused to look down at his feet and gazed at the heavens above instead
And someday I hope, at the end of this path, I would be what you were. A wizard who understands the magic of numbers and casts spells with equations. A dauntless adventurer, who sets sail for voyages of discovery and charted out the starry hinterlands of heavens.
And, yet, somehow, even in those flights of imagination you always remained grounded.
You reminded us to look after our planet, fragile and lonely as it is between eternity and infinity. You cautioned us not be a slave to our own machines.
You taught us not to take ourselves too seriously with your wicked sense of humour and to laugh every now and then.
You showed that the mind can triumph over the limitations of the body.
You urged us to rise above petty politics and artificial divides.
I daresay, your voice did not fall onto deaf ears. There has been an outpouring of grief and sympathy for you from all across the globe irrespective of one’s creed or nationality. Those who have heard of you looked up to the stars. Perhaps, beholding the vastness of it all found a better context to comprehend the world.
And realized that some differences are trivial, and felt sad that the men who roamed them is no longer with us.
In honouring you, they also honour the ideals you so spectacularly embodied and championed: Rationality and understanding.
This is reassuring and fills me with hope, especially in the face of “alternative facts,” “alkaline diets,” nutty conspiracy theories, homeopathy, and other mindless exercise in irrationality. It shows that on balance, we still value knowledge over ignorance, and would much rather understand our place in the cosmos than buy into ignorance.
Being one of humanity’s brightest stars, you drew so many of us with the gravity of your intellect.
Your fierce radiance still illuminates us. Your discoveries are beacons that will guide others.
So, though your departure is mourned now, your legacy will be celebrated forever.
In hushed whispers and reverent tones, people will tell and retell the story of a man who refused to look down at his feet and gazed at the heavens above instead.
And in doing so, changed the way we viewed the universe.
You travelled for light years and you have travelled far. Thanks for taking me with you on your voyages.
Syed Raiyan Nuri Reza is a student at New York University, Shanghai.