By Deborah Simmons Harris
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
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