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Lesson Nine


Against All Odds Michael White & John Gribbin

Pre-class Work I

Read the text once for the main idea. Do not refer to the notes, dictionaries or the glossary yet.

When Stephen Hawking returned to St. Albans for the Christmas vacation at the end of 1962, the whole of southern England was covered in a thick blanket of snow. In his own mind, he must have known that something was wrong. The strange clumsiness he had been experiencing had occurred more frequently. At the party he threw on New Year's Eve, he had difficulties pouring a glass of wine, and most of the liquid ended up on the tablecloth.
After a series of examinations, he was told that he had a rare and incurable disease called ALS. The disease affects the patient's nerves in the spinal cord and the parts of the brain which control motor functions. The body gradually wastes away, but the mind remains unaffected. Hawking just happened to be studying theoretical physics, one of the very few jobs for which the mind is the only real tool needed. This, however, gave little comfort to the twenty-one-year-old who, like everyone else, had seen a normal life ahead of him rather than a death sentence. The doctors had given him two years.
Hawking was deeply shocked by the news and experienced a time of deep depression. He shut himself away and listened to a great deal of loud music. He kept thinking, 'How could something like this happen to me? Why should I be cut off like this?' There seemed very little point in continuing with his research because he might not live long enough to finish his PhD. For a while he quite naturally believed that there was nothing to live for. If he was going to die within a few years, then why bother to do anything now? He would live out his time span and then die. That was his fate.
It was not long, however, before he dragged himself out of his depression and back to work. In the hospital, he had seen a boy die of leukaemia in the bed opposite him, and it had not been a pretty sight. He realised that clearly there were people who were worse off than him. At least, his condition didn't make him feel ill. Whenever he felt like pitying himself, he remembered that boy.
He had had some recurring dreams. He dreamt that he was going to be put to death, which made him realise that there were a lot of worthwhile things he could do if he were to be set free. In another frequently occuring dream, he thought he could give up his life to save others: 'After all, if I were going to die anyway, it might as well do some good.'
There is little doubt that the appearance on the scene of a young woman was a major turning point in Hawking's life. This was Jane Wilde, whom he had first met at the party. After he came out of the hospital, the two of them began to see a lot more of one another, and a strong relationship developed. It was finding Jane that enabled him to break out of his depression.
As predicted, during his first two years at Cambridge, the effects of the disease rapidly worsened. He was beginning to experience great difficulty in walking and was forced to use a stick in order to cover just a few feet. With the support of walls and objects, as well as sticks, he would manage, painfully slowly, to move across rooms and open areas. There were many times when these supports were not adequate, and he would turn up in the office with a bandage around his head, having fallen heavily and received a nasty bump. Meanwhile, his speech rapidly became first slurred, and then very hard to follow, and even those close to him were having difficulty understanding what he was saying.
Nothing slowed him down, however; in fact, he was just hitting his stride. Work was progressing faster and better than it ever had before. Crazy as it may seem, ALS is simply not that important to him. Of course he has had to suffer the humiliations and obstructions facing all those in society who are not able-bodied, and naturally he has had to adapt to his condition and to live under exceptional circumstances. But the disease has not touched his mind, and so it has not affected his work. More than anyone else, Hawking himself would wish to downplay his disability and to give his full attention to science, for that is what is really important to him.
Having come to terms with ALS and found someone in Jane with whom he could share his life on a purely personal level, he began to blossom. The couple became engaged, and the frequency of weekend visits increased. It was obvious to everyone that the two of them were truly happy and highly important to each other. Jane recalls, 'I wanted to find some purpose to my existence, and I suppose I found it in the idea of looking after him. But we were in love. 'For Hawking, his engagement to Jane was probably the most important thing that had ever happened to him: it changed his life and gave him something to live for. Without the help of Jane he almost certainly would not have been able to carry on or had the will to do so.
From this point on, his work went from strength to strength, and Sciama, his supervisor, began to believe that Hawking might, after all, manage to pull together the different threads of his PhD research. It was still touch and go, but a wonderful chance was just around the corner.

Read the text a second time. Learn the new words and expressions listed below.


adj. physically strong and healthy

adapt (to)
v. to change so as to become used to new conditions 适应

adj. enough

v. to have an effect on 影响到

also known as motor neuron disease 一种最终导致全身瘫痪的运动神经麻痹症

n. a piece of cloth used to cover a wound 绷带

n. an area of skin that is raised because it has been hit 肿块

n. 剑桥(英国著名大学)

n. (常用复数)facts, conditions, etc. connected with a person 环境;情况

n. a state in which the movements of the parts of the body do not work well together 行动笨拙

n. 安慰

n. a feeling of sadness and hopelessness 消沉

n. a physical problem that makes sb. unable to use parts of his body properly

v. = play down: to try to make oneself think that it is unimportant or less important than it really is 低调对待

v. to pull with effort and difficulty 用力拉;拖

v. to make one able to do sth.

adj. unusual

n. the number of times that sth. happens 频率

adv. very often or many times

n. 功能

n. a feeling of shame and embarrassment 屈辱;丢脸

adj. impossible to cure 不可救治的

n. 液体

n. blood cancer 血癌;白血病

adj. 运动神经的

adj. bad; unpleasant

n. 神经

n. 障碍

n. Doctor of Philosophy 博士(学位)

v. to say sth. will happen in a particular way 预言

adj. not seen or found often, or not happening very often

v. to happen again (especially sth. bad or unpleasant)

n. the place where sth. happens 地点;场景

v. to speak unclearly without separating words or sounds correctly 吐字含糊不清

n. the length of time one's life continues 一生

adj. 脊髓的;脊骨的;~ cord: 脊髓

n. quality of being strong; power and energy that makes sb. strong

n. a person who gives advice to students in their studies and makes sure that they do their work properly 导师

a piece of cloth used to cover the table

adj. 理论的

n. one of the periods of time when universities are closed 假期

v. to become worse

adj. worth the time and effort to do sth. 值得的


The Dark Gift Kent Nerburn

The look on her face was one of numb disbelief. "It can't be," she says. "Why me? Why now?"
"It's not as bad as you're making it out to be," I said to my good friend Alex, as she sat there staring vacantly at the heavy cast on her leg. One moment she was running about, preparing for college, worrying about books, her car and which classes to take. Now, she was sitting here with a broken ankle. It all happened so suddenly.
This was the first time Alex had collided with an indifferent world. Everything else had been negotiable, arguable. Everything else up to now could be avoided, escaped, bought off, laughed away.
I tried to comfort her and tell her it would be all right. But this was real; this was hers. No one could change it, make it right, make it fair. It was life—an absolute without explanation—that was indifferent to her plans and dreams.
"My life is ruined," she sighed, feeling utterly depressed.
"No, your life isn't ruined. Just consider this one of those dark gifts. A bad circumstance can teach you something valuable, maybe even change your life."
Suddenly, I remembered the time several years ago when I, too, had broken an ankle. It was March. The streets were slushy paths, and corners were precarious hard-packed trails, through mounds of ice and snow. I struggled on crutches, trying to balance on uneven surfaces of ice. People pushed past me, muttering about how they had to get through, about how I was taking so long. I tried gingerly to make my way up over the snowpack without slipping or letting my cast drag in the slush. My arms ached from the tension, my shoulders were rigid and numb from the digging pain of the crutches. I tried to block out the others around me, not to feel them brushing brusquely past me.
I looked across at the snowbank I would have to negotiate on the opposite side of the street. There, making her way down through the small uneven pathway of ice, was an old woman with a cane. People were standing behind her muttering. She was feeling with her foot, trying to find solid ground. No one could help her; there was not enough room for two abreast. I saw her frantic look, her shaking hands. There, for an instant, she looked up. Across the distance of that icy, slush-filled street, our eyes met. The fear, the sadness, the frustration, the utter aloneness of our respective plights, were mirrored in our respective gazes.
I wanted to help her, but I could not. I could barely make my way across the street myself. The other pedestrians rushing past us were no help either. To them we were impediments to the necessary pace of daily living. To the drivers in the long line of cars that was backing up in the street, we were insufferable obstructions. We approached each other from opposite directions. As we passed, we glanced at each other.
"Hi," I said, not knowing what else to say.
She, who had the added fear of being elderly and alone on a city street, did not know whether to answer. Finally, she said, very softly, "Hello." Cars honked at the further slowing of pace that had been caused by our brief conversation. Other walkers brushed against us in their rush to get to the other side.
We looked again at each other, then went on. The cars revved and drove past in anger as soon as we were out of their path.
When I got to the other side, I turned to see how the woman was doing. She was feeling for the path through the snow with her cane. When she found her footing, she stopped as if she had accomplished a huge feat. She turned to look at me, and she smiled a sweet and tender smile. She knew I understood. For a moment she didn't feel so alone, and neither did I.
I wanted to tell Alex this story. But she was lost in her own world. I watched her as she put her backpack on and moved on unsteady crutches down the hallway. She had an evening class that she had to attend. "I never knew that doorknobs could be so much work," she said as she balanced on one leg and tried to open the door.
"Steps, revolving doors, taking baths, crossing streets. You've got a lot of fun ahead of you," I said. "But make sure to keep your eyes open for those dark gifts. They will be some of the best lessons you will ever be fortunate enough to learn."
Her pack slipped off her shoulder and almost pulled her over. I wanted to help her. But there was nothing I could do. "I'll never make fun of old people again," she said.
With that, I remembered the sweet smile of that woman. "Neither will I."