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Professor Stephen Hawking and the painting "A beech wood"

      First time I got to know of professor Stephen Hawking in 1978 year. To be more correct that time I got acquainted with an article about this scientist.
I have no interest in exact sciences and have no notion, how a periodical on physics appeared on my desk. At that time I listlessly looked through its pages and put it back on the table. The picture of a man sitting in a wheel chair made me wonder: what had this man got to do with physics?
      But the next day I simply could not get down to my work. In my attempts to find the periodical I went through all the items on my desk but it wasn't there any longer. I tried to pacify myself but somehow my nervousness was on the increase. I do not remember, but possibly I was distressed because somebody had taken this periodical from my table without my permission. What I do remember it was some vague feeling of unrest that had settled within my mind. I seemed to have passed by something important and necessary. I tried to subdue that weak feeling of discomfort and to forget about the man in the wheel chair. It wasn't difficult for me at all.
      But within two months I once again came across one more article about this man.
One of our friends had a grandfather who having left the United States forever dropped anchor at our friend's place. Returning to Russia he took with him some magazines published in Russian. These magazines were printed in Russia to be distributed free of pay among immigrants. I have never met editions of such high quality! No wander I went through them with a particular interest.
      And unexpectedly I saw the photo, which had already been familiar to me. There were the same man, the same wheel chair and even the same chequered plaid covering the legs of the man. I was looking at the picture and felt as if all that had already happened to me, and it made me feel uneasy.
Why did this man meet my eyes so insistently and so all of a sudden? I wanted neither to look at his photo nor to read about him. I don't know may be it was because I was afraid to touch that tragedy of some stranger. But I was only twenty-five years old, I had no notion about such thing as Fate and I tried not to take notice of all the negative aspects of life. With some kind of alarm strange even to me myself I closed the magazine and put it aside pretending to be utterly indifferent.
      Could I guess at that time that just ten years later I should have to look for any information about this man in the wheel chair, questioning the people that had some concern to mathematics and physics and raging because so little is known about him. After all I knew nothing about that man! Some man in a wheel chair who was a professor and had something to do to physics and that was all... .
      How could I suppose that I should need the article I had listlessly put aside as much as the air to breathe?
And when I was twenty-five year old I in no way could know that Pyotr would become a painter, that he would paint the picture "A beech wood", and that the fate of professor Stephen Hocking would play an important role in our life. In no way I could know that twenty three years later I should spare no forces trying to meet him. I wish I might ask him two questions: How does he feel? How are we to go on with our life? And I also would like to give him the picture which marks the beginning of Pyotr's career of a painter and which was painted specially for professor Stephen Hocking..
      It was he who, though suffering from the same terrible illness, managed to become a prominent scientist and the winner of Nobel prize in physics, and I believe that he will help my husband to find the way to active and creative life. I have been looking for a chance to meet this man for twenty-tree years and all this time the very thought of him instilled hopes into my heart.
      Doctors gave the final diagnosis to my Pyotr when he was only thirty years old.
This diagnosis wasn't just overwhelming it could kill outright. But was it really so that Pyotr's illness was incurable that he was doomed to die slowly? But would anybody believe it, especially on looking at the best of the best men? Especially on seeing a strong and confident man of thirty years who had an athletic build of the gymnast? Who could believe that this man who hadn't known what it meant to be defeated, in five years wouldn't be able to walk on foot, and by his forty years he wouldn't have force enough to raise a cup of tea?
Certainly, for sooth! The medicos have gone mad! It's dog ravings!
      So I didn't believe the professors. I wanted to find such a specialist who would not just give his diagnosis but would explain to me looking straight into my eyes, why it had to be my Pyotr, who had got the incurable illness, and not any drunken sot from a gutter.
It is quite possible that my Pyotr is a lucky man not just in that I have fallen in love with him but because I am one of those women who never believe any final diagnosis and never lose hope. And even having been convinced that there is no hope at all they all the same continue to live with a tiny bit of that hope in their hearts.
      So I took the diagnosis that had been given to Pyotr and went along the whole USSR like Eroffey Khabarov and other Russian ancient travellers. I was looking for the doctors specialising in treatment for that disease. Since Russia through all its history was always rich in skilled craftsmen who could shoe a flea, so I was sure to find the specialist who spared no forces studying this illness.
      Such were my fighting mood and my longing to overcome everything when I was thirty years old!
      But when they spoke to me all the doctors turned their eyes aside. All that I managed to find out led to the next conclusion.
      Every man has in his body carriers of the disease that struck Pyotr or professor S. Hawking. The disease differs from all the rest illnesses in its rare occurrence. The cases of this disease have been appearing utterly seldom, once in three hundred years. But nonetheless it appears!
      The illnesses like these are impossible to forecast, they do not yield to treatment and to measures of prevention. Even the cancer considered anticipated and liable to prevention, but this disease is like a death sentence!
      And everybody might be sentenced to such a doom! And everything is in God's hands!
Good heavens! There is dire necessity not to be too late in helping those fellows who couldn't escape this sentence! How it is necessary not to be too late rendering help to those who will not be able to escape and will be sentenced to this doom. It does not matter that there are only few of them, but they exist and they will exist!
      One must study one's enemy and know him by sight in order not to receive a mortal stab in the back. And as soon as you know your enemy you will learn the best way to defeat him, making him your ally. Until now it is the only way to treat this illness.
      Pyotr did not know at all that there lived British professor Stephen Hawking who had been stricken with the same illness.
But completely independent of my will my conscience by impulses sent to my brain the detailed picture of the man in the wheel chair, I could see even the colours of his checkered plaid. Exasperated, I put out these impulses and tried to send them into the very farthest corner of my memory.
      In 1988 quite unexpectedly there appeared some weakness in Pyotr's fingers
Yes, it was quite unexpectedly, though we have already been given the final diagnosis. When it comes to our own selves we do not want to believe in the worst, we do hope that it may be a mistake that there is a chance that everything will be all right. But there was no mistake and his hands could not hold anything.
      It is difficult to describe what feels a man whose hands were considered "clever fingers" by everybody. It is not even worth trying! But it were not the clever fingers that mattered, however miraculous might they be! It is impossible to perceive the state of a man who knows that in spite of his hopes he is doomed all the same.
      I knew Pyotr since my childhood and when it became clear to me that I should stay alone I was frightened to death.
      One has to experience all this in order to understand me!
That fear possessed such destructive force that no one could control it. In no time at all it could suppress all the human feelings. It was so strong that I couldn't even ask myself questions to say nothing of answering them. I had no force to weep, I simply kept silent, feeling myself small weightless and insignificant. The fear took away everything from me, I even did not feel myself a mother.
      In the end of December I took a hitch out of the town to visit the head physician of a prophylactic mental centre. I believed that as a psychologist he possibly would answer my question, how was I to live in such a situation?
The doctor amiably received me, he patiently listened to my lamentations writing something down into his notebook and not saying a word.
      Somehow his attentive attitude and most of all his constant writing inspired me and I told him everything about my torments. It seemed to me that as soon as he was so attentively listening to me and writing down his conclusions he would sure know and tell me what to do next. The doctor looked up from his notebook stared at me and said that such cases were not the lie of the work of their institution.
      - Yes, I see it, - that was my answer, - but what am I to do?
      - Take sedative extracts of certain herbs, - the doctor replied.
      - But I need no sedative extracts and no tranquilizer as well! All I need it is your advice.
      The doctor only threw up his hands.
      I was simply dumbfounded. When I went out I saw a long queue of the patients that for forty minutes had been humbly waiting by the door of the cabinet of the head physician. And all that time the doctor had been writing down something in his notebook. He did not see and hear me
      And at that moment I quite unexpectedly heard music sounding in my head. It were the bars of Shostackovich's Symphony VII ("Leningradskaya"). I was glad, as during last months they were the first sounds of music that I was able to hear.
      It became clear to me that there were no answers on my questions, and on my way home I managed to return to my normal self. And the man in the wheel chair once again came into existence in my imagination.
      I got interested, who was this man and why he appeared in my mind in the most unsuitable time. I just knew of this man that he was a physic and that was all. My attempts to find out more information from the school-teacher on physics gave no result. Nobody seemed to know anything about this man and it got me to the quick
      I began insistently look for any information about the man in the wheel chair and for that periodical which nine years ago appeared on my desk by some chance. In vain I tried to find it and nobody remembered this issue.
      A New year fir tree had already been set at our office and it was my duty to decorate it. The box with the season toys and decorations was kept in my safe. Opening it I barely had time to pull out the box when I saw not the very periodical but its double page which had been taken out of it and which now served as an accurate covering for the bottom of the safe.
      It was wonderful that for the whole nine years this sheet of paper had been lying there and it had not got worn out or rusty, that it got no stains of grease and looked as if it were put into the safe just yesterday. For so many years I kept remembering this professor, and when the need to learn more about this man got especially acute, this paper appeared right in hand.
      I am a realist. I believe that there exist only those phenomena that could be felt or measured. I do not believe in mysticism and in telepathy. And in no way I could believe that our fate would be so closely intertwined with the fate of a man who lived so far from our place and even did not suspect of our existence. But such are the facts and one has better not to argue with them.
      I hastily read this article and felt myself none the better for it. Pyotr step by step was repeating the fate of the British professor. The only difference was that when he was twenty-four years old Stephen Hawking had already known that he was ailing with an incurable illness.
      My imagination fancied a young fellow who had been sentenced to doom when he was twenty-four years old. What had helped the young man not to leave this world? What force had made him not just live but get engaged in science? Why did the fate or a chance send me Stephen Hawking right at the moment when Pyotr was in a state of deep depression and I could do nothing to help him?
      But I had no time to muse upon all this. In haste I called up the messenger car and went home.
      It is not worth speaking of Pyotr's reaction on this article. He tore it not reading it through, and balls of paper flew forth at me.
      But suddenly and in no moment at all that dull indifferent and gloomy look in his eyes turned into the strong and scorching blue fire in which Pyotr's pang and rage, his despair and hatred - everything was shrieking at the top of its voice. At that time I understood at last that one nail really drove another and no kind of help of psychologists was needed. Feeling myself Margaret Thatcher I decisively returned to my work. I was working and all the night there was only thought that nohow wanted to leave me: "What did Pyotr's reaction to this article mean? Why did he suffer such a reaction?"
      And really why was it impossible to get Pyotr out of his depression with the help of talks and admonitions?
      Why did it happen that after a short and passionate outburst of anger the man got an ability to begin the process of restoration?
      I often muse upon this question. And in search of the answer I often think, may it be so because we are Russians? It is quite common for us - on learning something new and not especially pleasant for us at first to burst out with indignation at the circumstances, at our inability to master them and then having seen the tiniest fire of hope to kindle with it and to work miracles making the whole world wonder: "How did they manage it?"
      May it be so that our deeds are really unamenable to the World's logic of common sense?
      May it be so because we love and suffer in our own, Russian way, because for so many decades and ages there was no somebody else's grief for us and the expression: "It's your own problem" up to the last time was alien to Russians?
      I do not know I am not a specialist in these questions. But what I was sure of it was that Pyotr managed to overcome his depression and who would know how everything would have turned out but for my love and dedication.
      Such were the considerations I made my head engaged with on my way home. To tell the truth I was a little bit afraid to get home as I realized that some changes would be waiting for me there.
      I shall remember to the very last day of my life what I was met with when I got home.
I heard the shrill whine of the circular saw when I still was at some distance from our home. With this whine all my teeth began to pain and my heart contracted. It was clear for me that I had to put up with this "music" and that nobody knew what form it would evolve into. Pyotr liked works on a large scale he would not fritter away his energy.
      Our scared neighbours told me that since the very dawn they heard something being moved in my flat and after that some men brought there some heavy machine.
The universal joiner's benches that Pyotr had fitted up so that they could work under domestic conditions, were for a long time successfully operated at small private enterprises of his friends .
      I only prayed to God Almighty that these benches would never come back to Pyotr. But He seemed not to listen to my prayer.
      Raging mad I rushed into my flat.
      The picture before my eyes contributed to no merriment at all. A small but having the weight close to sixty kilograms circular saw stood at the centre of my small but neatly furnished ante-room. It was ringing and whining so loudly that our old she-dog, our poodle Fronia would have flown to the very attic if it had any opportunity to do it. As it was beyond dog abilities Fronia had to be content with the farthest corner of our box-room. Being on the verge of heart-breaking our parrot Kesha sat in its cage and tried to hide its head under its wing. And not just the ante-room but all our flat was strewn with saw-dust and shavings.
I felt ill at ease, I shrieked so shrilly as if I had my tooth pulled out with no anesthesia. Now the depression seemed the lesser evil than this nightmare, all these shavings the saw-dust that were gladly spread all over our flat with the help of our white cat. In comparison with the other members of our family, with our unfortunate neighbours and with poor me our cat was lucky because it was deaf.
      The floor was scattered with the draughts of my new kitchen cabinet and other kitchen furniture.
      Pyotr did not pay any attention to my hysterical shrieks. Calm and consecutive he arranged his working place thriftily putting out saws, milling cutters, chisels and all the other utensils of joiner shop.
      In this way my darling avenged on me for my shock therapy of the last night and for that article about the professor.
But afterwards I liked my new kitchen furniture, then the new doors and most of all I liked that our son learnt how to read working drawings and how to treat wood. Pyotr was happy. Now he had the opportunity not only to pass on his experience to our children but also to help his friends as their wives wanted to have the kitchen furniture of that kind. Once again our life turned into a nightmare, but it was an interesting and merry nightmare.
We did not speak of professor Stephen Hawking any longer.
But the feeling of deep gratitude to this man was warm within my soul because it was he who even not knowing it helped me to lead Pyotr out of his grave depression.
As for me, strange as it was, my car of "Zaporojets" was the best mean for my getting out of depression.
      I wish I were able to meet that designers who had developed the version of this car that was intended for disabled men and to bow from the waist before them.
In the USSR these baby-cars were turned over to disabled men free of pay. Those who were given such a car had no right to sell it, and when the established limit of its exploitation was over, they were to return it to the state in order to receive a new one.
Indeed even the experienced driver had to pass some special training to drive that car properly. But as soon as you got accustomed to the small trowels that were positioned on the shaft of the steering wheel and intended to serve as the accelerator treadle and as the controls for the brakes and for the clutch, you would find that operation of this car presented no difficulties. And when you managed to operate its rather capricious electromagnetic clutch you would find this car a good sport.
      Driving this car you realize the real meaning of that sweet word "freedom". When you are passing by all the road inspectors modestly turn their eyes aside and all the drivers let you pass wishing that you were as far from them as possible and as soon as possible. And riding in this car you can drive anywhere you wish, even beyond the road sign "All traffic prohibited". And to stop and to park everywhere you wish even in the zone where the road signs "No parking" "All stops prohibited" are valid. And all this is due to the small and well-known symbol that is fixed to the windshield and to the rear glass of the car and has the meaning: "A disabled man is behind the wheel.
      As soon as I mastered the operation of the car, it became clear to me that the fate had sent to me a good friend and reliable assistant.
      It was a magnanimous friend which willingly forgave me all my mistakes and many a time saved me on the road covered with solid layer of ice. It saved me, avoiding collisions with mad oncoming lorries, it proudly pulled me through such puddles and mires where the widely advertised cross-country cars with that four-wheel drive of theirs bogged down and stood aghast looking at our progress.
      My friend worked for us as a builder and as a fisherman. It helped us to earn bread but it was also the soul of the party. Without this car everything looked dull, there were no jokes and no anecdotes for it was the main theme of the most of them.
      Looking back from the belfry of the passing years I realize that it was just my baby-car, my "Zaporojets" that was my saviour at that time.
      One nail drives out another, it is really so. I consider this method the best remedy practically for all the cases of soul disturbances.
      Because, would you believe me or not, any kind of the soul discomfort went away as soon as I got into my car.
As soon as I sat into my car I found myself possessed by some kind of merry excitement. It seemed to me that all the best humorists of our country got into the car together with me. That was the merry company that had been participating in all my trips for twelve whole years.
      For those who consider their life pretty well dull I would advise to change those BMWs of theirs for "Zaporojets". Having done this exchange you will see your life one endless paradise, believe me!
      We did not spoke of professor Stephen Hawking any more, but as the time went by it was mercilessly taking away Pyotr's forces and he had to return the joiner's bench and other equipment to his friends. At that time he began making sketches of native landscapes, first in pencil but later in oil. The theme of the sketches was our Black sea.
That was why the presentation of his new painting with a beech forest depicted in it was quite unexpected for us. It didn't impress me much but Pyotr insisted that the painting should be inserted into the best frame and put onto the most honoured place. It didn't yet occurred to us that Pyotr had already become a painter. People liked his pictures and we willingly presented with them our relatives and friends.
      Then there came a period when nobody had any money at all. As we could give the pictures in exchange for food and cloth this time was not a great tragedy for us. Pyotr was calm and assured; he knew that his works provided his family with means of sustenance.
It is quite possible that I should not have paid any special attention to this picture but for some circumstance. There was a period when our family needed money, and it was to be real money and not result of some barter. The buyer was not long to come but he was interested only in the painting named "A beech wood".
      Pyotr firmly refused to sell it. Moreover, he declared that this picture was not to be sold or given as a present. I was not going to argue with him because from my point of view the object wasn't worth the argument. The collector came to our place every his visit to Kerch, and every time he was rising the price for the painting. But Pyotr wouldn't give in. His stubbornness irritated me. Much better pictures were leaving our collection and this forest which in no way inspired me went on hanging on the wall of our bedroom right above the head of my bed. I hadn't even the slightest notion that there was some link between this painting and that British professor.
      In the evening of the seventh of March 1998, I as usual was busy with my domestic matters and Pyotr in accordance with the habit of all married men watched news dosing before our TV-set. Suddenly I heard him crying out: "Attaboy!" It seemed to me at first that some football forward had hit the goal. I rushed into the room and stood aghast. The TV-set was showing a conversation between the President of the USA and professor Stephen Hawking.
      It was amazing! I was glad to know that Hawking had enough forces to live, to continue his studies and to teach students. I was glad that the entire world could see and hear him. But it weren't these facts that were most amazing for me. During the long ten years Pyotr never spoke about the professor, he seemed not to admit the very existence of Hawking. For that once I was amazed by the look of Pyotr's face when he was watching the TV-broadcast. One could hardly describe that look. Pyotr's eyes were illuminated with the mixture of joy and triumph and with pride. It was as if he was trying to say that professor Hawking and he himself - they were the member of one team. And it dawned on me that all the ten years Pyotr had been demonstrating to me, to our friends and relatives, but first of all to the professor that he himself wasn't a pennyworth man either.
      Judging by everything there was a long-term rivalry between Pyotr and the professor. I'd rather look for an easier opponent. Hawking had far more ample opportunities and better conditions. And still I am glad. It wasn't so that owing to this rivalry Pyotr just was able to pull through these ten years. During this time he managed to bring up our children and to become a painter. At that day Pyotr declared his wish to hand over the picture to the professor.
      Looking at that picture I tried to understand, why did it happen that every ten years Stephen Hawking all of a sudden interfered in my life? A chance seems to have nothing to do with it, everything looks like some objective law. There might be an answer to such a question, but is it worth looking for it? I'd rather say let it be a riddle.
The noble mission to hand over the picture was laid on my shoulders. I was to take it and to hand in, just as easy as that.
      I hadn't even the slightest notion how difficult it would be. Had some man of the Stone Age tried to invent a bicycle, he would have met lesser difficulties than I did.
I knew that there was no "iron curtain" any longer, that there existed a free exchange of information. But what could I do if at every place I turned to for help nobody could tell me Stephen Hawking's address, nobody knew the country he was living in at that time, to say nothing about the University where he gave his lectures.
      Practically everybody whom I turned to knew nothing about the professor and whatever was told about him came to naught after all. Even those who were connected with Great Britain this way or another just shrugged their shoulders in their perplexity. It was just as that: somebody heard something and nothing more beyond that. I tried to find a Moscow's journalist, whose name was Eugene Sorockyn and who had made a report on the professor, but he was on a long business trip somewhere else
      My friends tried to help me. They sent to me addresses of those Stephens Hawking that were living in the USA and Canada. I knew that the professor was a subject of the Queen but he could live in other countries.
      That was why I had sent my letter everywhere I could send to and with great impatience began waiting for the answer. In approximately six months I received it. It ran as follows: " Look for your Hawking in Great Britain somewhere in the vicinity of Cambridge". So I sent my letter with the address: Mr. Stephen Hawking, Great Britain, the vicinity of Cambridge. I believe that God helped me and the letter never reached my addressee. One could take as pure raving this deep-felt composition on five pages, that was word-by-word translated into English with the help of the Russian-English dictionary.
      At last I got tired of knocking into the closed door and gave up my search. If every ten years the professor quite independent of our will is breaking into our fate, so let us wait one more decade and then we shall present him with this picture.
      But four years have not yet elapsed since then and one Moscow engineer, (that one who most kindly offered me his assistance in composing this site about Pyotr), sent to me the e-mail address of British professor Stephen Hawking, his web-site and more detailed information about him. Now I can get in touch with him practically in no time.
      Since that time I feel myself as if I were frozen. Really it's just enough to press the button and in less than a second Hawking's office will receive my letter. But I do not know what to tell him. I have lost all my words I am not able to collect my thoughts.
      And how can I find the words in which I shall be able to tell a man, who has not even the slightest notion of our existence, that it was he, who has been occupying my thoughts for the long twenty years, that it was he, who helped Pyotr to pull through and to become a painter? And considering all the said may I offer to him Pyotr's painting "A beech wood" as a present? I am afraid that the professor will not understand me properly and will hold me to be a rogue of some kind.
      I have read the information out of the professor's web-site and thought that it would have been better if I never saw it. I try to avoid any contacts with everything what resists explanation because I do not know and have no wish and forces to discover if there exists such a discipline which studies mystics, the highest intelligence, and the difference between the chance, the fate and the objective laws.
      And yet I would like to know, why did it happen that in 1978 year, when I was only twenty-five years old and had no ideas concerning the fate or the highest intelligence, I got to know of Stephen Hawking? Was not it so that the highest intelligence was sending me some kind of warning?
      Why did it happen so that it was just Stephen Hawking who came to the aid in 1988 year and helped Pyotr to overcome his depression?
Why did it happen so that in 1998-th Stephen Hawking unexpectedly let us know that he lived and went on working? Why did he make me collect any information about him for three years running? Why did he make me try to find out how I could help Pyotr?
      I get acquainted with professor's biography and my hair stood on end. There are many fates that look alike and it is quite understandable. It is not difficult to accept such a coincidence that the two men got an incurable illness when they both were twenty-four years old and on knowing that their illness was incurable both of them managed to overcome the ailment and to develop their talent to that utter degree that was attainable for each of them personally.
      One can understand and accept all this, one can subject all this to the thorough examination and chuck it off after all and go on to live, not letting any rubbish into one's head.
      But who will explain to me why so it happened that the two man should be even born on the same day but with the difference in the age being as much as ten years? Who will explain to me, how within the short time given to them by the fate each of them managed to become a father of three children? Note it: not of one or two children, but just of three! All this cannot be just a mere coincidence!
      Now I could live a quiet life, since the state of affairs with Pyotr and with our family is more or less settled, if it is possible to say so at all. But time waits for no man and my fate asks me questions and I must find time to answer them. And maybe Stephen Hawking is exactly the man, who knows the answers for all my "why"... .

48 hours and a picture «The Light»

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