Waiting for Godot in British Literature today. One critic famously quipped that this is “a play in which nothing happens, twice.” The claim seems justified when you peruse the pages in which two characters wait beside a dead tree on an empty country road for the arrival of one who never arrives.
We set the stage for the Samuel Beckett’s seminal tragicomedy — philosophically speaking — with a set of -isms: Modernism, Existentialism, Absurdism, which give us a universe drained of meaning except that which we create for ourselves by deliberate action. (And there’s debate about whether the actions can be deliberate, whether they can mean, but I won’t debate that now.) It seems that Beckett’s two main characters find their meaning in the fact of their waiting: “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come–”
But waiting is no easy thing to do, and Beckett’s characters attempt to pass the time with formulaic dialog, odd games, speculations, and an apparently endless cycle of repeated action to avoid the pain of thinking, though the first line of the play acknowledges that there is “Nothing to be done.” If waiting defines them, how does that definition change when we realize that their waiting is a hopeless project?
I listened to Advent music as I drove home from teaching, because it is Advent season, and because this music is beautiful, and as I drove I reflected on this other waiting.
Centuries of waiting for an arrival, clinging to prophecies, to hopes, to rituals which must often have felt as empty as the actions of Beckett’s waiting pair. The waiting of a young girl, feeling the kicks of impossible life in her rounding belly, poised on the edge of the fullness of time. The waiting of the magi, full of the wisdom of the stars, opening themselves to a strange expectation, a strange journey. The waiting of shepherds who did not know, perhaps, that they had been waiting until they found themselves in that wild scramble to a stable outside Bethlehem. The waiting of an old man, eager to see a child and depart in peace. The waiting of an old woman, living as a widow in the temple, worshiping, fasting, praying for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Though there must have been days when they were heart-sick with hope deferred, their desire saw its fulfillment. Theirs is no story of waiting for an ever-absent Godot; theirs is the story of the arrival of God-with-us. And their story is also our story.
As we remember their waiting, we live in our own waiting, knowing that this God who kept His promise to arrive will surely keep His promise to return, knowing that none who wait for Him shall be put to shame.
Rest here, weary soul. You are not defined by the fact that you are waiting; you are defined by the One for Whom you wait. He opens blind eyes, relieves captives of their chains, lifts the dead from their graves.
He gives meaning larger than any -ism; He makes broken things whole; He makes the waiting worthwhile.
©2013 by Stacy Nott