When I saw the play “Waiting for Godot” I kept waiting for something to happen. Something else to happen. Something besides waiting. While the two men wait they sing songs, tell stories, examine sore feet, encounter other travelers, muse. But mostly they wait. At the end of the first act a boy tells them that Godot will be there the next day. The two men leave to sleep. And then they come back the next day (next day for them, second act for us) and wait some more. They consider not waiting. But then they keep waiting. We aren’t told why they’re waiting. We aren’t told why Godot is worth the wait, or what they expect will happen after Godot arrives. The play was about what happened while they waited for Godot.
Life is what happens while we’re waiting to die. Thinking about the play later, I decided that’s what it’s about. Some might find that depressing. I find it freeing. There’s no pretending we’re more important than we are. Everything dies. Trees. Tigers. The black and coral striped centipede I saw on my walk today. My dog. Books get eaten by moths and music is forgotten. Great ideas are discovered and set aside and then discovered again.
If there is no Meaning or Purpose or Plan, if there is no need to Make it Matter or Point to Prove then there is nothing to lose. There are no missed opportunities or lost causes. If life is about what we do while we’re waiting to die, we might as well enjoy what we can. I am free to write or hike without worrying if it’s what I’m Supposed to do. I can tinker or toil. If I want to spend my time waiting watching West Wing and drinking whiskey I can. It’s entirely up to me.
One of the two men waiting for Godot is more dour than the other. One is more ready to laugh and sing and the other to grouse and complain. Might as well laugh and sing, it makes the waiting more enjoyable. We’re all waiting to die, so there’s no need to be an asshole. No one wins in the end, we might as well be kind.
As we sat on my back patio listening to the crack of fireworks, sipping Fat Tire and eating peach pie, a friend told me the story of the February night he nearly drowned in Lake Michigan. He had jumped in to save his dog. Good Samaritans were able to pull the dog to safety but they had to leave my friend in the water while they went for help. He tried to pull himself onto the ice, but it broke beneath him. He couldn’t climb the ten-foot retaining wall. With his fingertips he clung to a narrow gap in the concrete, only his head above water. He doesn’t know how much time went by, but he lost his grip on the crevice when his hands froze with the palms flat. His head dipped again and again under the water. With each dunk, he could feel the heat whoosh off his head. He thought three things. One, if this were how he died his ex would be totally vindicated. Two, his mother deserved better. Three, life, what the hell was that supposed to be? And then he thought, if these were the last moments of his life he should say something out loud that was absolutely true.
That’s where he paused in his story and looked me in the eye and asked, “What would you have said?” My thoughts froze in the icy water. The only words that came to mind were “Help!” and “Fuck.” I could not think of a single, absolutely true thing to say.
As we sat on my back patio, hearing the crack of fireworks, sipping Fat Tire, and eating peach pie I was so relieved that he there was to tell me this story. And so angry that he was such an idiot that we almost weren’t.
He looked at me, waiting for an answer. I felt my hands sliding down the slick, icy concrete. Nothing. I shook my head. “What did you say?” I asked. “There is only love,” he responded. “Love in relationships is life giving. Love in neighborhoods is community. Love in systems is justice.” Until I have an answer of my own, I’ll borrow his: “There is only love.”
Some days it’s all too evident that the world is one hot mess. Yesterday was one of those days. Tuesday there was an ISIS attack in Belgium. Two coordinated explosions killed at least 30 people and injured 230 others. The attacks will be used by some to paint Islam as a religion of hate, which is handy if you want to whip people into a fear fueled frenzy for your own purposes.
On Facebook I read that on March 14 six gunmen opened fire on a beach in the Ivory Coast, killing 22 people, including a boy begging for his life. I hadn’t heard anything about it on network news. But while working out Wednesday morning, I saw that every TV was tuned to news programs that had plenty of time to cover the the mud-slinging about wives between Cruz and Trump but hadn’t mentioned the terrorist attack n March 20 in Yemen that killed 137 people.
Selective outrage is nothing new. Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino make the headlines. Attacks in Libya, Yemen and Tunisia do not.
The horrific events and our ability to ignore them reveal the ongoing brokenness, sin and evil in the world. It’s the same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. A second biblical flood to wipe out all of humanity looks like the best possible option.
God seems intent on remembering the promise marked by the rainbow – to never again destroy the earth. A cynic would say that we don’t need God’s help – we seem intent on destroying the earth all by ourselves.
My perspective from the midst of Holy Week preparations tames my inner cynic and helps me even to hope. The story of Holy Week is that in some way (which I’ll probably never fully understand) God entered human life in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us that God doesn’t just show up in the sunset and the lake front and the new baby. God also shows up in the bombings, in the hate filled rallies, in the drive by shootings.
God is there and not just in the acts of heroism or mercy. God is there in the suffering. And God’s presence makes a difference. The story of God raising Jesus from the dead, whether myth or history, reveals God’s activity in continually leading us toward new life, toward peace, toward reconciliation– even and especially where it seems impossible.
On my morning walks I pass graveyards with skeletal hands groping for sunlight, dementors gliding through trees ready to suck out souls and decapitated heads hanging by porch lights.
I’m puzzled by these Halloween decorations that seem to have gotten more outrageous every year. Seldom do I see a jack-o-lantern with a crooked smile or a friendly ghost.
We have skeletons on our lawn but we are so ambivalent about them in the rest of our lives.
We avoid death very ably in most parts of our lives. Age is impossible to detect in the women in my community. With colored hair, carefully applied make up and work out regimens that would rival Olympic triathletes, many women appear ageless. I’ve often wondered if the focus on achievement, performance and the accumulation of wealth is a way to outrun death. We schedule memorial services for our convenience. Soccer games, concert performances and vacations take precedence over honoring the departed. Death doesn’t interrupt anymore. But we splay it all over our front lawns.
Has Halloween become a secular Ash Wednesday? On Ash Wednesday Christian pastors and priests put ashes on the foreheads of gathered worshippers and say, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a day to acknowledge our mortality, confront our limitations, and confess our brokenness.
Do these Halloween decorations only reflect the popularity of the Walking Dead or do they reveal something hidden deep in the recesses of our minds?
Do the ghouls hanging from a neighbor’s tree remind us that we are not in control of everything?
Does walking by a mock graveyard remind us that we cannot outrun death?