Samuel Beckett’s two-act play Waiting for Godot has been called “the only theatrical masterpiece where nothing happens. Twice.” The title, after all, is also the plot summary. Two vagabonds wait in a field for Godot to arrive, passing the time in various discussions. Although a few other people pass through the scene, Godot himself never shows up.
During the first scene, a man named Pozzo stops to talk with the pair before going on his way. In the second scene, which takes place in the same field the following night, Pozzo returns, but he has been struck blind and falls helpless in the field. He calls desperately for help, and the vagabonds discuss whether to intervene. One of them finally cries out:
Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!
This has always struck me as one of the most stirring calls to actions in literature, not because it calls us to grand and world-changing actions, but because it calls us to immediate action in whatever situation we find ourselves. No matter how horrible our situation, we have the chance to make someone else’s day better, to reach through their confusion and despair and provide at least a little reassurance that they are not alone in what they face.
I find I need reminders like this more these days. We are headed into the coldest and darkest part of the year. Covid is making a comeback and, despite the recent encouraging news about covid vaccine development, it will dominate our lives until at least the spring. The economy is still in tatters, and the number of evictions has started to rise as the eviction moratoriums have ended. We are weary of not meeting with friends and family, of not being able to grieve together for our losses, of not being able to just go outside or go to work without fearing for our safety or the safety of those around us.
In the midst of all this, Beckett’s writing reminds me that amidst all the needs, I have a chance to help, even if it is simply helping someone who has fallen to get back up. I have benefited from countless small acts of kindness from others to me. I hope I may overcome any weariness I may feel this winter long enough to share similar acts with others when the chance arises.
by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.