[FOUNTAIN]The infirm value life moreA black-and-white monitor connected to a small computer is attached to a wheelchair. On the screen, 2,600 words are listed alphabetically. There is a cursor moving to one word after another, and when the cursor is on the word you want, you click the mouse and then go on to the next word. You can select 10 words a minute at most. When you finish making a sentence this way, a voice synthesizer reads it in an American accent. Dr. Stephen Hawking spoke in that mechanical voice when I met him ten years ago at Cambridge University in England.
“If I hadn’t been disabled, I would have been so busy lecturing and grading that I wouldn’t have been able to do my research. Lou Gehrig’s disease practically made me a theoretical physicist.” That doesn’t mean that Lou Gehrig’s disease is God’s blessing. Rather, it is just the opposite. God’s last blessing to the patients facing death is to make them unconscious when they experience extreme pain, so that their suffering lessens as they approach death. But God must have forgotten to give his last blessing to Lou Gehrig’s disease patients. To the last minute, they never lose their senses. While being fully conscious, they experience difficulty breathing and their hearts stiffen. That’s why doctors call Lou Gehrig’s disease the cruelest illness in the world.
But many Lou Gehrig’s disease patients do not blame God for his forgetfulness. The time in their remaining lives is too short and precious to be wasted on holding a grudge. Lee Je-ma, the father of Sasang Constitutional Medicine, also suffered from Haeyeok disease, another name for Lou Gehrig’s disease. His lower body became weak so he could not walk freely. Because of his condition, Mr. Lee became interested in medicine and compiled the theories of Sasang medicine with academic passion. Dr. Hawking, too, worked to establish the singularity theory, the big bang theory and the theory of quantum gravity.
Professor Morrie Schwartz, whose final days were documented in the book “Tuesday with Morrie,” never lost his optimistic attitude towards life until his death. By letting the public know of his death through the media, he hoped to enlighten people on the preciousness of life. The photographer Kim Yeong-gap, who had taken beautiful pictures of Jeju Island, refused treatment and finished his life in his beloved Jeju. The baseball player Lou Gehrig, whose name is used for the disease, said he was the happiest man in the world even though he died at only 38. We live far more comfortable lives than Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers, but we might be wasting our lives, not recognizing their value.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.