Years ago. A somewhat pretentious friend provides advice.
You need to broaden your academic horizons, he tells me. And with that, he dumps a load of books at my front door. Read these, he instructs.
Eventually, I pick my way through the pile. I finally settle on a play, authored by an impoverished Irishman named Samuel Beckett.
I further learn that Waiting For Godot premieres on stage in London in 1955. Somehow, it goes on to be considered one of the greatest English language plays of the entire 20th century.
Alas, I find any proper assessment beyond me. Never mind apparent connections to theology, philosophy, existentialism, futility, and such. A philistine I may be, but as I analyze the supposed “action,” nothing in Godot appears to happen. Twice in fact, as the second act reprises what occurs, or rather does not occur, in the first.
Indeed, the play’s two main characters, Vladimir, and Estragon, seem to do nothing more than quite literally wait for the mysterious Godot. Just idle the time away. Hopeful maybe. Yet lingering in anticipation for something that never materializes. Doomed to a boring, uneventful life.
Move along to the summer of 2022. A gentle breeze freshens a glorious Sunday afternoon. I enjoy a leisurely walk along the beach, alone with my thoughts. Watch the toddlers, their mothers hovering nearby, dig in the sand, wade in the surf. Half an hour later, I ready to head home. I climb up a flight of stairs towards the main road. A last glance over my shoulder, as the sun glitters and sparkles on the water below.
I decide to take a shortcut through the park. All is quiet, even as I near an outdoor court.
However, I soon realize that a pack of youngsters, maybe 12 or 13 years old, are gathered by the fence. Various basketballs lie in a neat row, abandoned almost. Still, old habits being what they may, I secure a comfortable spot in the shade, settle down to watch the boys play.
The minutes pass by. Nothing. No action of any kind. I decide it cannot be a rest period, as they do not appear in any way sweaty or flushed.
They should be ready to go. Or so I think. Instead, they mill about aimlessly. Half of them glued to phones, others plugged in to ear buds.
I get to my feet, stroll across towards them. A brief nod the extent of any pleasantries. Probably I should mind my own business, but I can wait no longer. What’s up, I ask? How come you are all just standing around? Get out on the court, play, take advantage of such a beautiful day.
Blank faces stare back. Finally, one from the group responds. We are waiting for Coach, he volunteers.
The unexpected answer throws me somewhat off balance. Yet, recovering quickly, I inquire “what happens if Coach does not show up?"
Oh, he will, the boy assures me.
Fifteen minutes later, Coach has still not arrived. To my astonishment, the players remain clumped together. Not one takes the initiative, not one practices his dribbling, not one ventures to a hoop and starts shooting, not one passes back and forth with a mate.
Instead, they wait. And wait. Modern day Vladamirs and Estragons.
I despair. But, when I think about it, maybe I should not be surprised.
When did it all change? How long since kids, before the insidious grasp of television and technology, would choose which game to play, when and where to play it? Who to choose, and on which team, from all who arrive?
How long since they would gather on a slab of concrete for road hockey or hoops, find a frozen lake or pond for a game of shinny, meet in an abandoned lot or on a dusty diamond for stickball or baseball? How long since they would create time, space, and freedom to play Yards, Kick the Can, Cops and Robbers? Or 3 vs 3, 4 vs 4 soccer, tackle football or rugby in the back yard. Whatever the numbers and available area allowed.
And how long since kids would develop skills and fitness without even knowing it, experiment to discover what might work, find out what definitely will not? Learn to compete, win and lose with grace, bond with others who become friends for life. Take on important lessons that last into adulthood. Most of all, organize, make up rules and set limits as required, solve any problems and disputes that might arise. By themselves.
I snap out of my reverie, survey the court one last time. At a group clearly requiring order and regulation. A group seemingly incapable of action, waiting for everything to be formulated for them. A group slaves to adult direction.
I walk away, slowly shaking my head. Take some solace in the fact that Beckett, at various times in his heralded play, offers hope as a form of salvation. The hope that Godot might one day arrive.
However, my hopes are markedly different, namely to reverse course without delay. Indeed, I pray that youngsters, such as the ones I stumble across, choose never again to “wait for Coach.” Instead, may their liberation come from taking full ownership of every imaginable unstructured play or sporting opportunity. And so reap all the joys and positive experiences that will be an enduring part of the process.