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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

17 February 2023

Malcolm Guite’s patience is tested when a computerised voice tells him he is on hold

“THANK you for waiting. Your call is important to us. Please hold the line and we will answer your call as soon as possible. Thank you for waiting. . .” And so the inane, surely inhuman, computer voice cycles on as the slow minutes tick towards the hour. “Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us. . .”

I might almost be hypnotised, carried into some contemplative state, by the phone’s repetitive mantra, were it not for its randomly interruption by little loops of vapid soft-rock music, whose distorted guitars are distorted still further by my inadequate telephone speaker. But now a pause! A click! Will somebody answer? No, it’s back to “Thank you for waiting. . .”

I soon find myself imagining a new production of Waiting For Godot: the house-lights dim, and light comes up on the empty stage with its single barren tree; the audience leans forward in expectation; nothing happens. The minutes tick by. Then, from all around the auditorium, a voice intones: “Thank you for waiting, your call is important to us. . .”

Eventually, Estragon and Vladimir appear in their shabby tramps’ clothes and begin the compulsive cycle of their despairing, witty, tragi-comic dialogue. “Let’s go,” Estragon says. “We can’t,” Vladimir replies. “Why not?” Estragon asks. “We’re waiting for Godot.” Silence. They stare at the pitiful tree. A cheery voice on the Tannoy says: “Thank you for waiting, your call is important to us. Please hold the line and you will be answered as soon as possible. Alternatively, you can visit our website on www.godot.com. . .”

Estragon and Vladimir bang their heads against the tree, and its last few sad leaves fall to the stage.

But even that fantasy, that little diversion, soon fades, and, once again, pacing my room, I’m confronted by my complete failure in the virtue of patience, notwithstanding that I once played the part of Lucky in a student production of Waiting for Godot, and had to wait, holding two heavy suitcases (full of sand), through nearly the whole of the second act, before delivering the opening words of my one, wild, disjointed speech: “Given the existence of a personal God . . . who loves us dearly . . . for reasons unknown. . .”

But, now, as I remember that speech, reciting it against the telephone’s incessant verbiage, I also remember that I do, indeed, have a personal God who loves me dearly; and so, at last, and for the first time in that long day, I turn to him in prayer. And there he is, “expecting me”, as George Herbert says.

There he is, in all his infinite patience and compassion, waiting, waiting for me to turn to him, waiting for me to share my frustrations, to tell him my sorrows, to trust my life and time to him again. My speakerphone still babbles o;, but, in the absence of Godot, God himself has come. I turn to him at last, in relief, in grace, and I say to him, with all my heart and soul: “Thank you for waiting.”

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