Spacetime and Ivy

When I was about 16 my dad hauled me up to the local university to listen to a public lecture by a physicist.

I think it was a year or so before A Brief History of Time was published in the US. He was famous in physics circles, but Stephen Hawking wasn’t yet a household name.

Nonetheless the newly completed and largest lecture hall on the UCSC campus was already filled to bursting. People were standing in every available walkway and door – fire codes be damned. Oddly the organizers didn’t turn people away. Instead they managed to wire a few bookshelf speakers to the lecture hall sound system and blasted out physics to the whole area. By the time the lecture started people had filled in the entire area around the building, then the stairs, and the surrounding hills, and the parking lot too.

Hawking gave a prepared lecture through his brand new voice synthesis system of about an hour and then, very slowly, took a few questions.

At first I didn’t know what to think. I had never heard of this voice synthesis thing. And I was uncomfortable sitting on the concrete at the edge of the Unit 2 building quad pressed up against the ivy. I had managed to get a peek at him through the door and could not imagine why on earth my dad had dragged me to this.

But as the lecture kicked in and he talked in that way only the best physicists do, where even a 16 year old kid can follow explanations about gravity and black holes and spacetime, I was enrapt.

I laid back in the cool ivy on that warm evening, closed my eyes, and was completely transported.

Thank you Professor Hawking for that wonderful memory.