Have you ever read, “Waiting for Godot”? I haven’t — simply no time.
On a superficial level, I hear it’s about waiting. What happens in the tick-tock-tick-tock that backdrops idleness. Beckett himself said it was a simple thing that should not be complicated.
But complicated religious and political meaning has been ascribed nonetheless, reaffirming that “simple” art is no longer in control of the artist when it is released to the world.
Fortunately for Beckett, however, I care very little for what high-minded professorial types think of the play. Instead, I come back around to the merits of waiting. And this, too, which Beckett shared himself:
It is a game, everything is a game. It is a game in order to survive.
I’ve thought much about this during my recent travels. How strange, in some way, that the inherent comings and goings of itinerancy force us to wait. Walk here, then stop. While away the time until the train comes. Then hop aboard, and sit. Wait until you arrive. Then shuffle to the place where you’ll meet your friend, your family. And wait until they arrive.
In between, there are things, but we tend to ignore them. We are keenly focused on the “getting to,” so what else matters? Mere distractions, those absent-minded conversations with fellow passengers. A waste of time, the chitchats with others on the go.
Yet oh, when we wait, the things that miraculously come to us.
I sat in a Parisian bistro not long ago, waiting for my dinner. I stared blankly out the window at the beaten-down train station across the street. I saw comings and goings on the sidewalk, the bustle of a big city. But I remained quiet, alone, siloed. As I wanted — my French was far too rusty to engage another in conversation. And anyway, what would I say?
As fortune had it, my neighbor — a 60-something businessman double fisting wine and a double whiskey — was keen to engage. So he did. And so I returned the favor, out of politeness. I quickly stumbled through an apology: “I’m so sorry, my French is terrible. I’m from America.”
He shrugged it off, and said a few words in English. The gist: “Nevermind all that. Tell me what you’re doing in Paris.”
So I told him, in broken French. And he told me a great deal about his work in French factories, and how he was always on the go, and how much he missed his family, and how enamored of Toulousian cassoulet he was and oh how I needed to visit Rue such-and-such and just on the left was a spot for authentic cassoulet and oh the wine, and oh, and oh. He punctuated his advice with one sip of whiskey, one of wine.
I smiled and laughed. I understood every word, as it turns out. And when he had finished sharing pieces of his life, he said: “Your French is very good.” And with that, dinner appeared in front of me — and more wine was poured for him. We carried on separately then, but wished each other well. Strangers in a not-so-strange land.
What did I get out of this? The waiting in silence for a meal, wanting to be left alone while feeling so terribly alone in such a large and complicated city. I chose to play the waiting game in solitude, but companionship found me — and I’m glad for it. I smiled afterwards, felt confident enough to explore the city. To amble into a pharmacy and ask about a razor. To greet the doorman at my hotel. Little things that buoyed my spirit — that suddenly made the game quite fun.
And he, I’m sure, felt a little less alone in his never-ending life of solitude on the road. Enriched, just maybe, by a new perspective from another corner of the world.
We played the waiting game our separate ways, and then it played us. I felt, but for a moment, like Vladimir and Estragon.
I’ve returned home now. Back to work, routine, and the standards of life to which I’m accustomed. There’s not much waiting in the mix, though. Not much opportunity to play the game outside the world I know.
As I reflect on Paris, and all my peregrinations, I begin to wonder: Perhaps the game can only be played outside of what we know. And if it can only be played there, there is where it must be won.