The pandemic, on the one hand, has transformed our familiar reality and on the other hand, gave us enough time to procrastinate about our existence and the meaning of life. What if we come to the conclusion that, life is bizarre, random, and unexplainable? Comparing the situation with Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, writes Nayan Sayed Jibon
THIS pandemic has left us with no choice but to wait it out. We are waiting from our hospitals, our houses, our apartments, our vehicles, our rooms, and our verandahs. This waiting to get rid of an almost invisible enemy is surreal but real, absurd but actual. Neither have we known how long we have to wait, nor exactly what we're waiting for.
What we know is, we want to move on, get past this suffocating time and get going with our normal lives. We want to go out and attend the classes with our friends, later sit in a park, go to a bookstore or join our works.
But as Estragon asked Vladimir in Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot: ‘Let's go.’ His friend cautions him: ‘We can't.’ Estragon is impatient: ‘Why not?’ Vladimir reminds him: ‘We're waiting for Godot.’
The drama indeed can be resurrected to understand the absurdity we are facing during this pandemic, as humanity is desperately seeking meaning and order like the characters in the play. But do our lives have any inherent meaning right now? Even if there is none, we can make our own.
Waiting for Godot has been heralded as one of the most important plays of the 20th Century. It is an illustration of the human condition in a state of existential crisis which is a part of the theatre of the absurd. The Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) through his use of bleak setting, non-communicative language, repetitive structure, bizarre characterisation, silences, and pauses draws chaos, desolation, and hopelessness of men in a world without any meaning.
It is a hanging canvas on the wall of human existence riddled with the holes of World War 2, holocaust, atomic bombs, Darwinism, and the uncertainty of a world without any direction. That is why both the play and the characters in it are desperately waiting/ questioning/ racing in a cycle like a laboratory guinea pig to provide a solution, to cover up the holes, to find back the world they knew.
The first act of the play opens with two tramps named Estragon and Vladimir who meet each other on a road, beside a dead tree and start waiting for a person named Godot. It is evening and one of them remains busy in either taking off his shoe or putting back it on because it hurts him. And the other keeps on discussing the chances of survival for human beings are very narrow. They are exhausted and the playwright creates such a scope of nothingness in the life of the characters as Estragon says, ‘nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!’
While they are waiting, two other men enter. One is named Pozzo who is on his way to the market to sell his slave, Lucky. They stay for a while to converse with Vladimir and Estragon. And after they leave, a boy enters and tells Vladimir that he is a messenger from Godot. He informs them that Godot will not be coming tonight, but that he will surely come tomorrow. After his departure, Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but (they do not move).
In the second act, Vladimir and Estragon again meet at the following night near the same tree to wait for Godot. Lucky and Pozzo enter again, but this time Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb. Shortly after they leave, once again the boy enters and tells Vladimir that Godot will not be coming today. After he leaves, Estragon and Vladimir also decide to leave, but again (they do not move) as the curtain falls, ending the play.
This tragedy shows what it means to be pinned down in a life without any meaning. The characters are put into an absurd situation just like humans during this pandemic. Today if there is one common aspect of this pandemic it might be a big waiting expression on everyone’s face. The whole world seems ‘like a railway waiting room’ where everyone is waiting for a miracle, for the peak, the reopening, the vaccine and things to go back to normal, or for things to never be normal again.
And amidst this chaos, we might be questioning the meaning of our lives in general. Many people have lost their loved ones. Many people are out of their jobs in which, for better or worse, many derive their meaning. And many of us are losing their savings, their businesses, perhaps their livelihood.
Even if none of the above occurs, the abundant time the pandemic has created for many of us might lead us to a search for more meaning. But what if we are not able to find any meaning? What if we come to the conclusion that, life is bizarre, random, and unexplainable? What if we can’t change our circumstances and the meaninglessness of the whole situation we are going through?
Can we still choose to interpret our own lives in a meaningful way?
Yes, we can.
Because, meaning can only be found when we are living, and living takes place in the present moment, it is all we have and all we will have. The past is simply a collection of memories we experience in the present. And the future is the projection of hopes and anticipations we make in the present.
So right now, no matter what our situation is or how much time we are left to live, we can make this present moment more meaningful. When our focus is on making this moment and this day more meaningful, instead of waiting for some metaphysical truths to drop from the sky, we’ll soon realise that the most meaningful moments typically consist of a few small things.
One is connection with others. This crisis offers us a chance to consider meaningful people in our lives. Therefore, it is the time to connect with them — if not physically, then through phone calls, video calls, or other digital means which will keep us physically distant but emotionally close.
The second is contributing. When we are making a meaningful contribution to the lives of others, this makes our life feel more meaningful. Backed up by several research studies a great way to experience meaning is to help others — friends, relatives, neighbors, local community, the society.
The third is connecting with ourselves. This can be done by seeking activities that we find personally interesting, valuable, and fulfilling. What makes us tick? What do we enjoy doing when nobody is judging? Similarly, we experience meaning when we master something.
Now is the time to learn something we’ve always wanted to master, be it a musical instrument or a certain language. Because being able to express one’s true self is part of a fully lived life, and such self-actualisation can make our lives feel truly worth living.
So, finding meaning isn’t something remote or rare. It is not something we have to wait for. It’s already here, in many of our everyday moments in a stronger or weaker form. No matter who we are or what we are going through we still have the chance to experience the tiny moments of meaning every single day if we just pay attention.
Nayan Sayed Jibon is a student of Jahangirnagar University.
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