Existentialism has a bad reputation, not helped by the way it is often taught. As a philosophy, it really is best taught through media. I remember zoning out in my 7th grade English classroom, engrossed in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I think I finished the whole play between class periods in a few days. I just couldn’t put it down.
If you’re unfamiliar, Waiting for Godot follows two men, Vladimir and Estragon. They are, as alluded to in the title, waiting for another man named Godot. Spoiler alert: he never arrives. While waiting, they become extremely bored. They encounter other characters, but the main plot of the story is merely the act of waiting. Towards the end of the play, they attempt suicide, but ultimately fail. They decide to go find shelter, but as the curtain closes, they do not move.
This may sound like an incredibly depressing play. But I disagree. If you read the play, you will see that Vladimir and Estragon are not in fact sad whatsoever. Indeed, the play is really a comedy. They laugh, they joke, they love, and they wait.
But that’s not the point of this post. We’re talking about existentialism.
I read Waiting for Godot during one of the darkest points in my life. I was incredibly depressed, and things were only getting worse. I read the play and went on to study more about existentialism and absurdism.
What it led me to realize is that all of the pressure I was feeling from my parents, from school, from my mental illness itself…none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was me, and the fact that I was alive.
That realization changed everything. I was alive! What a miracle! Despite everything, I was alive, and it was beautiful. When I was at my worst, it was just another obstacle in my path. When I was so stressed I was breaking down daily, it was just like a hurricane. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t happening for a reason. It was just happening, and someday it would stop happening, and something else would happen. I had goals, and maybe I would reach them, and maybe I wouldn’t. But it wouldn’t matter either way, because I would be alive, and the life I would be living would be beautiful for the sheer fact that I was alive.
Existentialism isn’t about the fact that nothing matters. It isn’t about death; it’s about life. It’s about how your life is worth living simply because it is yours. Isn’t that beautiful?
Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot like we wait for death, but in the meanwhile, they live, and they are happy.