Even though I’m not on Facebook or other social media, something has come to my attention and it is this. People are referring a lot to the movie Groundhog Day right now, during this time when each day we live can seem remarkably similar to the day we just lived the day before. Interesting . . .
Now Groundhog’s Day just happens to be one of my favorite holidays and the movie one of my favorite movies. Why? Well, my birthday is the day before and my son usually calls me on the day after, (when he realizes he has missed it) and that would be Groundhog’s Day!
Also, as holidays go, Groundhog’s Day is very low key. No gifts to exchange, no cards to send, no fancy foods to prepare, no time off from work or from school (at the moment that would be a moot point with schools closed and twenty-two million of us out of work) it is just a calendar holiday, with a crazy superstition to justify its existence. But the ritual of the groundhog and his shadow is still observed to this day. You have to love that – something consistent in this world of inconsistencies.
How consistent? Well, the first Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and it is still on our calendars to this day. But it is the movie that I love even more than this lesser, mostly overlooked holiday. What is the message of the Groundhog Day movie? Why do I and maybe you, too feel like we are now in this movie as permanent characters?
Maybe it is the repetitiveness of our days. Days which may now be devoid of markers – markers like work and deadlines and meetings, markers such as social events (we used to call them obligations) markers such as celebrations, (birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc.) sporting events, plays, concerts, get togethers with friends and family, Sunday worship, TGIF rituals and more – all absent at the moment from our daily lives, thereby potentially giving our days a sameness that can frustrate us, leave us bored and listless or lull us into complacent resignation.
The main character in the movie, Groundhog Day, went through several different reactions to his situation before he found something that worked for him. His situation was this, he was a weatherman stuck in a small town, reliving the same day (February 2nd) over and over again. No matter what he did during the day, when he woke up the next morning, it was the day he had just lived, yesterday, all over again. Nothing had changed.
And therein was the frustration. No matter what he did that day, it didn’t make a difference. He woke up to the same day all over again and nothing had changed. Realizing this, he did things like binge eating, drinking, robbery, and even drove a truck over a cliff, sure that would put an end to the repetitive cycle. But he woke up as usual at the same time, in the same bed, with the same day ready to be lived all over again.
Then he started to do things differently. He engaged the people that were in his path everyday in a new and different way. (same people everyday because it was always the same day) He brought his camera man doughnuts, asked about his family and asked his opinion about the day’s news segment they were doing. (the camera man was appropriately shocked)
Our main character ends up using the endless stretch of repeated days to do many things. He becomes an accomplished piano player, learns French, masters the art of ice sculpture, helps a homeless man, changes a tire for a car full of old ladies, catches a boy falling from a tree (everyday), saves a man in a restaurant who is choking, buys insurance from a bothersome salesman who is an old acquaintance, well, you get the idea . . .
He was stuck living the same day over and over. He didn’t choose that. But he found he had many choices to make each time he lived that day over. And he changed his choices over time. The ultimate “do-over”. That’s what he was given. There are a lot of days I would like to “do-over” so that I could do things differently, make things better, make things right. What a gift Phil, the main character in Groundhog Day, was given. And in the end, he made the most of his infinite second chances. He only had the one day to live (over and over) but he made the most of that day, everyday, every time.
Of course, Phil had an ulterior motive to begin with. He wanted to impress and win over his other co-worker, Rita. It took a lot of repeated days to correct the many mistakes he made trying to win her over. But each time he blew it with her, he got to do it all over again the next day using what he had learned about her that day. (which remember was actually the same day just lived over and over again)
Even though Phil just had the one day to live over and over, he discovered that what he did mattered to those he helped (like the boy falling from the tree, who he caught every time). Knowing that what we do does matter, makes all the difference. Once Phil, our movie hero, discovered that truth, his life went from being repetitive and meaningless to being meaningful and purposeful. He became well known and loved in the small town where he spent his “day.”
You, like me, may feel stuck in the sameness of the days right now. We can’t really make plans, any plans. This is hard because we are planners. We like planning our futures because it gives us the illusion that we are in control. But now we find ourselves in a time when we can’t plan or count on anything. We can’t plan to visit friends or family, because we don’t know when travel will again be allowed. I don’t know when the schools will reopen, or the churches, or the libraries, or the parks or the museums or restaurants or other places of business. What I have, what you have, is today.
My Heavenly Father has given me what I need for today, my daily bread, this morning’s manna. That is sufficient, it is enough for today. Psalm 145:15-16 tells me,
“The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
A wise woman I know is fond of saying, “how we live matters!” Phil in Groundhog Day figured that out and used it to change his life and the lives of those around him for the better. I need to remember that as I live in these days dictated by COVID-19. How I live today matters. This virus does not have the final say. I get to choose how I will live today – in fear or in faith, in victory or in defeat, in despair or in hope, in hurting or in helping others, in withdrawing or in reaching out, in indifference or in empathy, in anger or in acceptance, – the choices to be made everyday are endless and they are mine to make.
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (quite the understatement) Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
I want to make the most of every day, sometimes translated as “redeeming the time,” even while I am living in this “Groundhog Day” world . . .
sincerely, Grace Day