One of my favorite plays is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in which two tramps kill time waiting for this obviously important figure to show up, possibly to give meaning and direction to their lives. At the end of each of the two acts, a boy arrives to tell them that Godot is not going to make it, but he might be there tomorrow. Each time the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, say they are leaving, but they don’t.
There has been a lot of critical discussion about the meaning of the play, and you will be pleased to know that I will not be joining that discussion.
No, I just want to write about the experience of waiting.
Now, in the middle of January, we are waiting for our first serious snowfall, with not much in the forecast. This is waiting with eager anticipation – the beauty, the mystery, the recreation of the world. But as I write this, it’s gray and drizzling.
And we are waiting for the Inauguration, and the frightening events that might lead up to and overwhelm the Inauguration. This is waiting with feelings of hopeless dread, and a heavy sadness that somehow our country has come to this. Kim asked me to get the pepper spray out of the drawer and onto the top of our bedside table – just in case.
And we are waiting for the first hundred days of the new administration. The challenges are overwhelming, but we feel that they will be addressed with compassion, decency and honor, in a spirit of collaboration toward common goals. This is hopeful waiting, but that hope is shadowed by realism about the difficulties ahead.
And we are waiting for our vaccinations. As geezers we are somewhere near the front of the line, and we have successfully “pre-registered” with our county health department and are in contact with Munson Hospital in Traverse City, which has just reduced its age requirement from 86 to 82. So we are waiting for a phone call, text or email. We can be patient, as we probably won’t be emerging from our semi-quarantine in the near future, with or without the vaccination.
And we are waiting for two coffee mugs we ordered from Germany to match ones we broke. It’s been about six weeks. I’ve learned that there’s this operation called “customs” that stuff from overseas has to go through, and that our coffee mugs are, apparently, not a priority. One advantage of being old is forgetfulness, so when they finally arrive it will be a surprise. Forgetfulness can be a good substitute for waiting.
And, of course, we are waiting for the pandemic to be over, whatever “over” might mean. In just this one instance President Trump may have been mistaken – it may never be fully over. So, we are waiting with a combination of resignation and creativity as we create our own version of the new normal.
What else does it feel like to wait? I heard a saying, I think it was Israeli: “I can be patient, but not for very long.” What I try not to do, not always successfully, is sit around paying full attention to the experience of waiting patiently, which reminds me a bit of the insomniac’s lying there waiting to go to sleep. Not a good place to be. Some folks can wait patiently for a long time. Not me.
A better response – one that Kim demonstrates daily – to make yourself busy. Kim rarely experiences waiting because she is too busy cleaning the kitchen cabinets, or labeling her photographs on the computer, or finishing up the Christmas scrapbook, or doing laundry, or phoning a friend. She does not experience this as a mode of waiting. It’s just how she lives her life. And when she pauses to rest, she is not waiting – she is resting.
Meanwhile, what are Beckett’s tramps waiting for? I doubt they know. Something.