Letters from the Pandemic 11: Dear Sam

Letters from the Pandemic 11: Dear Sam
by Cathy Joyce


Dear Sam,

Samuel Becket. Photo by Jane Bown, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London

As a whole civilization muddles about individually bewildered, bumping into themselves while trying to stay safely apart, I wonder if a wry smile might have flickered on your etched features because you already knew, and have already precisely documented, just what happens when society stops.

The bustling, demanding lives that are considered normal, that we complain about when life is normal, are constructs that fill the time between sleep just as much Winnie’s dwindling routine. Now, whether we know your work or not, we all feel the helplessness that makes Estragon declare: I can’t go on like this. You let see the truth about that feeling when Vladimir replies: That’s what you think.

Pauline McLynn as Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days at the Crucible, Sheffield, 2011. Photo by Robert Day

Recently we have all been learning to face losses without the consolation of companionship, recognize the rumbling fear of decrepitude without obfuscating or reassuring chats, and to accept our mental isolation without the warmth of physical contact. You showed that, when forced back into the locked storage space of memories, we cannot choose which ones are waiting there: “Memories are killing” as Krapp would have it. You had already travelled that lonely road and made a detailed travelogue in the words and actions of your characters. However, most generously, you never left those characters, rocking or pacing back and forth, without the will to continue. Your work encapsulated the bleakness of life but you also reminded us: “Quand on est dans la merde jusqu’au cou, il ne reste plus qu’à chanter.”

So, Mr. Beckett, thank you for showing that we have always lived in a kind of internal lockdown, Covid or not, but also that, as the sand of crumbling certainty builds up and holds us fast, it is okay to shout, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Yours in gratitude


Cathy Joyce

Since moving to Canada from London, where she worked in theatre and events, Cathy Joyce has learned to be a professional weaver, completed the GLS Master’s Degree at Simon Fraser University and a novel, and become a slightly more accomplished runner, painter and gardener. She lives in Vancouver with her partner.


The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

One comment on “Letters from the Pandemic 11: Dear Sam

  1. Beautiful writing, Cathy; great idea to turn to Beckett with these mixed feelings we likely share at the moment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This