Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Juxtaposing Limitations: "Common" vs. Hawking

I've got so much I'm working on, but just now experienced one of those bizarre juxtapositions that sometimes God sends to flummox us into humility and gratitude.

My fave radio host was discussing Michelle Obama's upcoming White House celebration of poets, one of whom, Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.), is an actor known for his cop-hating, President Bush-indicting raps.  Just so listeners could be appropriately revolted, Fave Host played a particularly noxious excerpt.  I happened to be multi-tasking at the time.

My second task was reading today's New York Times Science section while sipping hot chocolate.  The lead story is an "interview" with scientist Stephen Hawking--painstakingly conducted via his daughter's days-long transmission of questions, and his difficult responses enabled only through computer miracles.  As the world well knows, especially since his mega-best-seller A Brief History of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes, Dr. Hawking is severely physically disabled as a result of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease, which usually kills its victims in a period of a few years.

In the background, with the familiar rap inflection that distorts final syllables to enable rhyme, Common intones, "Tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton; I walk like a warrior, from them I won’t run.  Use your mind and nine-power, get the government touch.  Them boys chat-chat on how him pop gun, I got the black strap to make the cops run..."

Meanwhile, my brain is processing this response from Dr. Hawking to the question, "Given all you've experienced, what words would you offer someone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, perhaps A.L.S.?"

Here's what Dr. Hawking answered, by, according to The Times, flinching his cheek muscle to "signal an electronic sensor in his eye glasses to transmit instructions to the computer": "My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit, as well as physically."

I burst into tears.  Look what this man has accomplished.  And by comparison, I look at the angry complaining in the "poetry" of the White House honoree.

I'm not commenting on who Mrs. Obama chooses as her poetic role models, or even whether or not she should laud Common as the apex of our nation's artistry.  This isn't about politics, despite Common's lyrical diss of the former president and Dr. Hawking's entry into the health care debate. Or even about religion, despite Common's status as one of Rev. Wright's Chicago church flock, or Dr. Hawking's recent book that attempts to explain our existence without reference to a Creator.

It's just contrast in vision, plain and simple. We can choose to play the victim, even when able-bodied, televised and honored.  Or we can talk about the great pleasures and exciting questions yet to pursue, even when confined to a wheel chair, in a voice created by a machine.  Perhaps it's just the worlds each chooses to explore--a sad microcosm of limitations, or the possibilities of the cosmos.


  1. Interesting how to such divergent personalities come together in a cohesive lesson. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow, what a powerful contrast. Thank you for sharing!!! It's amazing how empowering and freeing it is to drop the shackles of victimhood and expand one's vision to all the good things life can offer. Too bad there's not more focus on that in the world.

  3. Diane,

    What a great contrast. This is a beautiful piece of writing and such a clear expression of how we choose our attitudes in life.

    How sad that more young people know the rap lyrics than have heard Prof. Hawking.

  4. I was thinking something similar when I saw him on TV doing some of his rap: that such a nice looking young man would waste his time complaining about life rather than going out and accomplishing something meaningful with his life.

  5. Jesus said, "I come to give you life and life more abundantly" Stephen Hawking has one of the greatest minds the world has ever known. What a tragedy that he chooses to not acknowledge the creator who gave him a gift. In contrast, there's the first lady of the United States who chooses to celebrate the worst that the human mind can produce. What can anyone expect when there's a President who went to a godless religious institution like Jeremiah Wright's poisonous sect in Chicago?