09 May 2012

For a Very Important Date

No less than thirty-six times the Torah commands that we care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst. Our obligations, Torah demands, are to those on the fringes of society, those who (barely) survive on its margins. Often I consider that perhaps there is no purpose in life but to listen for the cries of the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst, but I worry that if I accept this obligation, then I wonder how I could ever again sit contentedly before a full plate, or sleep comfortably in a quilt-covered bed in a roofed house. They are heavy responsibilities, the obligations and the worries.
In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Vladimir hears Pozzo’s cries for help and observes, “To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us!” I take some (but not all) exception to Vladimir’s description of humanity as an unwholesome litter destined for base purpose.  But hearing Pozzo’s entreaties, Vladimir acknowledges to Estragon their obligations to the cries of distress that have been addressed, albeit, to all, but which they alone are present to hear: we should act, he urges Estragon. Of course, Vladimir and Estragon were not waiting for Pozzo; they were waiting for Godot (ah!), but Pozzo at this moment is representative of all humanity and it is to them that his cries are made and it is them that his cries obligate. Though Vladimir and Estragon have not set as their purpose to be responsible, circumstances have become such that they have the opportunity to act responsibly. They can do something!. (It is interesting that in Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead it is exactly the failure of the two to act that dooms them. One says to the other: there must have been a moment when we could have done something, said something, to assert some control over our destinies.) How to hear the cries addressed to all mankind and to act when we hear them!  Many of us just turn up the music so as not to hear, or don the earphones. But is a question I have struggled with for years: how to be Ché Guevara and not forfeit my daily comforts.
But for Vladimir the doubt persists, and he cries (I think) despairingly: “What are we doing here, that is the question.”  Of course, Vladimir and Estragon know they are waiting for Godot (ah!), but they do not know why they are waiting! But while waiting . . . ah, there is the rub. What should they do? And as they attempt to fill the time while they wait the void of their existence falls upon them. Why are we here? What are we doing? Vladimir remarks that whatever else happens, his life has purpose: he is waiting for Godot. But then he adds, “Or night to fall.” In two respects (at least) there is no small connection between waiting for Godot and the falling of night. First, when night falls and day ends Vladimir and Estragon can know at least that another day has passed: there is, at least in part, an end to the present void. Waiting for Godot in this sense is waiting for the day to end. But in the second instance, when night falls Vladimir and Estragon know again that Godot will not come this evening but will certainly be here tomorrow. For the moment their waiting is at an end: they could act But they do not move.
Of course, theirs is neither an original nor a bad question. What is it all about, Alfie? It is my hope in my life to come to some understanding of my purpose, though, alas, six and a half decades in, I remain still perplexed.
And then Vladimir adds, “We have kept our appointment and that’s an end to that. We are not saints, but have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?” Estragon responds that billions of others can claim the same, and he may be even correct! But I wonder now: what does it mean to have kept our appointment?  


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27 May, 2012 09:44  

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