The Root of the Absurd
“Miss, this is boring.”
I stand in the middle of a loud cafeteria, an image of artwork projected on the wall behind me. In front of me, a group of indifferent middle schoolers languish. “Miss, this is boring” one of them repeats. I feel all the optimism drain out of me as I try to think of a response. They carry things I cannot see or know, but can feel, and it pushes against me, and it keeps them down, so that they don’t want to try, they can’t care enough to listen, and they just want a break, not a new experience.
I feel defeated.
Why am I here?
I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to be here.
I have known this moment before: . . . holding a wailing infant in the middle of the night . . . or standing alone at the edge of a crowded room . . . or sitting in a circle of chairs in a room with more tissue boxes than people.
As I get older, I have become more existential. I am just not as certain as I once was. This brings some beauty in enjoying more mystery, but also makes heaven seem more a foggy idea of little comfort. What good do I give? What am I doing?
I carry these thoughts as I go about life. These thoughts came with me when we went to see a Portuguese production of Waiting for Godot with English, Romanian, and Hungarian subtitles, while visiting family in Cluj, Romania. Theater is such a great source of rest, especially where you are working hard to follow in multiple languages, watching and reading, let alone a play where things are so otherworldly. I say rest because you are completely freed from output of thoughts, or thinking of the next meal or who needs what. You can sit, absorb, enter another world for a bit. Waiting for Godot is dark and somber, the stage is all gray and blue. I was feeling it.
The story revolves around two characters waiting by a tree. They are indeed waiting for Godot. As they wait, they worry and wail over their waiting. Are they in the right place? What is this place? Why are they there again? In the beginning of Act II, they return to the tree in the morning after departing the night before and find a very small green leaf on the tree. They discuss if this is the right place, since this leaf seems different than they recall. This can't be the same place because this leaf was not here before. But it has to be the same place, perhaps the leaf grew overnight or maybe we didn’t notice before? Eventually they decide they are in the same place and settle into their shenanigans of amusing themselves while waiting for Godot.
These couple of minutes of the play, though only a tiny slice, have stuck with me these couple of weeks since. Gábor Tompa, the director of the play, put words to why the discovery of the new leaf stayed with me in my despair:
I believe that Waiting for Godot is not a dark play. It’s a play that says that there are no easy solutions, that it’s hard, it’s really hard, but there is always something there. If we don’t believe in that, if we only believe that that’s it, we will die, if there is nothing behind or after that, then life is absurd. That’s why I say it’s the last play about salvation because it puts the main question of Christianity. If there’s no resurrection, in that case life is absurd. That’s what they try to find together.
What a comfort Tompa’s words are as I struggle daily with the absurdity of life.
I can be defeated.
But maybe Act II is still coming.
And maybe there will be a leaf or two on the old tree.
And yes, maybe I should be more confident of these hopes as fact.
But today, the maybe in the midst is enough.