Monday, April 28, 2008

Waiting For Godot

I recently resumed reading a favorite book by the gifted Anna Quindlen. Loud and Clear is a collection of her writings, first published in Newsweek and The New York Times. The book is filled with reflective essays about life and society.

Among my favorites is a selection entitled Oh, Godot. In that essay, Quindlen references the play in which her eldest son appeared, Waiting for Godot. Playwright Samuel Beckett tells the tale of two lost souls who wait through the entire play for someone or something that never appears. She compares the tale to the way that many of us spend our lives waiting for that magical something to transform our own story into something extraordinary. Quindlen wrote her words as a commencement speech, in hopes of inspiring young graduates to go out into the world, remember who they really are, and listen to their hearts. Here is my favorite part of her speech:

Godot has arrived. The linchpin, the bedrock, the source of all the questions that have plagued your soul, and all the answers, too. The way is clear. The way is here. You saw Godot when you blew your hair dry this morning, when you brushed your teeth and put on mascara. I have seen your salvation, and it is you, staring back at yourself, your eyes windows to your heart and mind. Many of you have looked for Godot, or some facsimile, elsewhere in this particular place. You have looked for it in the grade on the last page of that art history paper, in the grad school acceptance letters, in the laughter of your friends, in the smile of some nice man or woman. What passed for your life was often a search for outside validation. Law school or a museum internship would save you, or love or romance or sex, or a poem published in a magazine, a painting hung at a show. But one edition of a magazine has a way of giving way to another, and course grades come and go, and occasionally, very occasionally, a lover who should know better will nevertheless dump you. The prizes arrive, but soon they are dusty, and then what do you have? You better have you. The real you, the authentic, examined self ... ... Today is the day that those lucky enough to be your teachers, your classmates, your friends, and your parents must say: Your life belongs in full to you and you alone. Do not cede it to anyone else, no matter how loving and well-intentioned. People will tell you what you ought to study and how you ought to feel. They will tell you what to read and how to live. They will urge you to take jobs they themselves loathe and to follow safe paths they themselves find tedious. ... You already know this. I just need to remind you. Think back. Think back to first grade, when you could still hear the sound of your own voice in your head, when you were too young, too unformed, too fantastic to understand that you were supposed to take on the protective coloration of the expectations of those around you.

What do these words mean for me? For you? From her essay, two main points resonated within me. First of all, do not let others create your definition of happiness. We all must search for our own special meaning in our lives. Next, I noted that we should not wait for years to be happy. We should not count on the realization of a dream, or the accomplishment of a goal, to deliver our happiness to us.

We must be happy while we wait to achieve those hopes and dreams that are truly our own. Do you know who you are? Do you know what you believe in? Do you have a close friend, a special someone, a best buddy, with whom you share that one-of-a-kind-in-six-billion-beings that is very special You? Isn't that a gift in itself, to have your hopes and dreams and values, and know what they are? To do something kind for someone and share a part of yourself with someone else? To learn something new about this huge, amazing world each day? Can you grasp the smallest fiber of hope when you find yourself in an abyss of great despair, with the prayer that tomorrow might be a better day? Can you recall one simple yet shining moment as you are drying your tears and adding one more crumpled tissue to the pile of thirty you have already used? Do you beileve in your heart that there is always, always something for which to be thankful?

On my best days, those questions are among my guiding principles, my quantitative methods of measuring a life that is usually defined by subjective terms like "pretty good," and "fine" and "okay" when someone asks, How are you doing? Some days, those flowery-sounding phrases that Anna Quindlen wants us to think about are not enough. As darkness falls upon my world at the end of a long day, when every room of my house is in a state of disarray, and my overtired, cranky boys won't go to sleep, and my to-do list includes a handful of unpaid bills, a stack of dirty dishes, and a pile of unwashed laundry ... well, forget about contemplating dreams or thinking ahead a day past tomorrow, because I have to get through the rest of today.

Sometimes just knowing myself is not enough. I want the bigger house. I want the bigger paycheck. I want the long vacation next to the ocean. I want my own agent and editor and endless hours for creative endeavors and weekly trips to the spa to inspire me. I need to remind myself it is okay to feel that way, that it's perfectly normal to want a little more than just enough, and I believe that kind of wishful thinking is necessary to achieve my lofty but attainable goals. Those thoughts remind me that I do have hopes and dreams and in the meantime, for one day, one month, or even one long year, I might be wishing for my own Godot to make my life better.

But then, in sudden realizations spread throughout the waiting, I have moments of truth that would pass by my heart if I weren't ready to accept them. I see my reflection from years ago in my son's pleading brown eyes when he asks for just one more bedtime story. I play the old, saved message on my answering machine from an acquaintance who said, you made my day. I open the freezer and I see meals I have lovingly prepared for my dear, sweet Nana, and I open the pantry and I see its shelves full of staples and spices and a piece of rich, dark chocolate for emergencies. I scan the obituaries and count my loved ones in my prayers, smiling as I say their names, and I thank God that I believe in the promise of Heaven. I see the gratitude and easy joy in my toddler's smile as I snuggle him to sleep. I glimpse beauty in a sunset, in an unwanted but secretly beloved field of dandelions, in my son's piles of pebbles scattered randomly all over the front step, in a famous painting that thousands before me have admired with critical eyes, in the sands of a beach that will never again be the same as they are at the end of that wave.

Those times in which I experience the purest forms of beauty remind me that I don't need to wait very long for something else to make me happy. Those simple gifts disguised as ordinary moments assure me that even though I have hopes and dreams are not yet fulfilled, I am not waiting for Godot. I am enough. Whatever I need is in me, somewhere. Sometimes I forget, sometimes I worry. Sometimes I remember that I am enough when feel myself smiling a real smile, sometimes an old friend reminds me, sometimes God resassures me. Sometimes a star whispers it to me when I can't sleep and I stare into the night toward the heavens; sometimes I see a forgotten color in the sky as the sun falls into the grass; sometimes a loved one talks to me in a favorite memory. Then I remember again: I am enough.