In Samuel Beckett’s famous two-act tragicomedy “Waiting for Godot,” two scruffy men stand beneath a scraggly tree and scrap with each other for two hours while they anxiously await the arrival of the mysterious Godot.
This Godot (pronounced GOD-oh) continually sends word that he will appear, but he never does. The two men, Vladimir and Estragon, keep waiting.
At the end of the play, Estragon says, “I can’t go on like this.”
“That’s what you think,” Vladimir responds.
In her brilliant analysis of the play, “Why We Keep Waiting for Godot,” on Literary Hub, Shannon Reed writes: “What Vladimir means—what Beckett meant, writing just after the end of World War II—is that we’ll go on because that’s what we humans do. It’s not beautiful or hopeful, necessarily. It just is.”
I’ve been thinking about this play – the Theatre of the Absurd’s first theatrical success – a lot lately as we’ve all been living through what feels like an absurdly long season of waiting: Waiting for a return to “normal” that likely may never come.
Speaking for myself, from my vantage point as an American retiree in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I’m waiting (read: yearning) for this charming old colonial city to come back to life – for the many churches’ bells to chime again, the wedding processions to dance in the streets again, the handsome mariachis’ serenades to fill the evening air again, the beautiful parks and Jardin to open their gates again, and, yes, even the international tourists to return.
I’m waiting for my beloved Biblioteca Publica (public library) to open its hulking wooden front doors again. I’m waiting for the day when I can throw my well-worn face masks away. I’m waiting, I confess a little impatiently, for the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to be lifted.
This is not, by any means, a criticism of the municipal government’s response to the pandemic, which, in my view, has been not only admirable but heroic. To date, the total death count in SMA is ten, and every precaution seems to be taken to ensure that the numbers don’t rise. There are signs everywhere exhorting the public to wear face masks, and the vast majority of people comply. Social distancing is the new norm.
This week I experienced the installation of inflated plastic portals at all of the entry points into the city’s center through which one has to walk. These large portals emit a fine mist of water mixed with an antibacterial sanitizer (I was told) all over each entrant’s body (but not enough to seriously wet one’s hair or clothing, I found). The top of each of these portals reads, “TODOS JUNTOS [All Together] San Miguel de Allende.”
If only, I can’t help but think, the U.S.A.’s response to the coronavirus could be as seemingly unified. Todos juntos appears to be an exceptionally foreign concept north of the border these days.
We Norteamericanos are also not known for our patience. We’re good at many things, but waiting isn’t one of them. In his newsletter of July 22, New York Times Opinion writer Frank Bruni claims that we Americans are “tragically” impatient. “If we’re tyrannized by anything, it’s our demand for immediate gratification,” he writes. “That mind-set has robbed us of the necessary discipline and endurance to fight this pandemic.”
Every morning, when I say my please- and thank-you prayers before heading out for the day, I beg (my conception of) God for patience – as well as endurance, fortitude, compassion, and wisdom – because I never seem to have enough of these.
Impatience, I know, won’t hasten the end of this pandemic. It won’t shorten the wait time. We must go on waiting for our own Godot, because “that’s what we humans do.”
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My new puppet, Count Blessings (for the backstory, see my earlier post, www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/count-blessings/ ) is here now, standing around — well, propped up by a wine bottle — waiting for school to start, waiting to make his debut.
He’s more patient than I am, however. I’ve been told that school will resume here in SMA on August 24th. But who knows, really? The pandemic has a mind of its own. In the meantime, Count Blessings, being who he is, is spending his time counting his blessings — the main ones being that he’s alive and well. I’m trying to take a lesson from him.