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Grateful for Godot
By Deborah Simmons Harris
(Page 1 of 3)

While many literary critics might have determined, and not necessarily negatively, that Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” was ‘much ado about nothing’, its historic lack of clear meaning as it reflects life taught me volumes.

I read the play in French when I was in college, enjoying the nuances portrayed by the flowery sounding words as they flowed over the pages, rendering – to me, anyway – wise and practical prose in the form of a play about two homeless men who pass their idle lives waiting for a significant visitor who, indeed, never comes.

The sense of ‘going nowhere’ and ‘talking about nothing in particular’ as the two scruffy, unkempt men joke about life, then, conversely, ponder its meaning, becomes the theme of the comedic script, making me think about how comfortable it is to busy ourselves with life’s mundane, tedious, and even unpleasant tasks, welcoming the warm blanket of security they fold around us; we know they will always be there.

When I read “Godot”, I had experienced nothing terribly tragic and had everything to look forward to – travel, a career, marriage, a family, health.  As French majors, my colleagues and I eruditely discussed the philosopher Pascal and how his discourse about needing to busy ourselves with life to avoid the very difficult questions it continually throws our way juxtaposed itself with Beckett’s airy play. Young and naïve, I found it all so amusing.

One frightful weekend in my life caused me to relish Godot’s world and its meaning.

Our twelve-year old son Joshua, because of complications of prematurity, has complex medical needs, requiring tubes, respiratory equipment, home care nurses and heavy green oxygen tanks to keep him at home, away from the isolation of the pediatric intensive care unit at our local children’s hospital. The infamous Minnesota winter one frisky Friday night last year had slung the temperature to near 20 degrees below zero. The air was like shard glass, scratching its way down the fragile lungs of anyone who dared to venture outside. Joshua was hungrily sucking in five liters of oxygen to assuage his own lungs, sick from virus. Frank blood mixed with copious, thick secretions spewed from his tracheostomy tube as he coughed, producing a painful hacking sound. Some of the disgusting gluey stuff stuck unapologetically to the white bedroom wall. I hovered over him, suctioning his labile airway, wiping his hot brow with a cool cloth, exhausted from hauling the heavy oxygen tanks up from the basement.

Another cough called my attention away from Josh, to the unlit room just down the hallway; this cough was fainter and lacked enthusiasm. Our seventeen-year-old son Nicholas was so weak from a series of respiratory viruses that had exacerbated his asthma and taxed his immune system, he had little strength to ward off the nasty tentacles of flu virus that had gripped our household.

I stopped briefly at the rickety wooden bookshelf in the hallway, only momentarily thinking that I might never retrieve the calm life that would allow me to read the books it held. Squirting a dollop of the cold, clear antibacterial hand gel I stashed there with the books on my trembling hands, I scrambled to Nick’s room.

Normally athletic and enjoying the fast pace offered by each winter’s hockey season, I could not imagine this boy speeding along the ice, checking his aggressive foes and throwing his arms and hockey stick up in victory as his team scored. Instead, Nick lay motionless, flat on his back with no pillow supporting his head, his usually active muscles now floppy and still. I touched his forehead and fear zipped through my own febrile body; it, too, achy, warm and plagued with a gnawing, percolating nausea. Nick was too hot.

I placed a well-used thermometer, ready at his beside, under Nick’s limp tongue, watching as the digits climbed to near 105 degrees. Please, not meningitis, I prayed quickly as Josh’s oximeter warned of his own low oxygen saturation rates, beckoning me back to the other room.

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