Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today. — Phil Connors
My wife and I just re-watched Groundhog Day, the early 90s classic that is still among my Top 10 favorite comedies of all time. And I’m not alone: many filmmakers and critics have gone so far as to call it a perfect movie. Even Harold Ramis, the film’s director, likened repeated viewings of the movie to the reading of Torah:
“One reason Jews respond to the idea is that the Torah is read every year — you start at the same place on the same day,” he said. “The Torah doesn’t change, but every year we read it we are different. Our lives have changed … and you find new meaning in it as we change.”
He laughed. “I’m not comparing ‘Groundhog Day’ to the Torah … but there’s something in it that allows people every time they see it to reconsider where they are in life and question their own habitual behaviors.” – Los Angeles Times
By that reasoning, I’m pretty sure I’m a talmudic scholar by now. So feel free to consider this my D’var Torah. But before I begin, allow me a brief digression:
One of the things that has fascinated me about the cultural impact of Groundhog Day is how it’s completely altered the meaning of Groundhog Day. Sure, it’s still on your calendar every February 2nd, when Punxsutawney Phil and other alliteratively-named large squirrels in cities around the country are relied upon to determine a 2-week difference in the length of winter, which we all know ends at the Vernal Equinox on (or around) March 19. [That’s if you believe in Astronomical Spring. Apparently Meteorological Spring begins on March 1. And don’t get me started on something called Solar Spring, which starts way back on February 1.] My point is, Groundhog Day now means something akin to deja vu, or as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it: “A situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way”. I can’t think of another movie that has so fundamentally altered the meaning of a cultural moment or “holiday”.
And now to my point – and to the point of this entire post: while many see the movie as a parable of personal transformation, a story of someone fighting their personal demons to become a better version of themselves (and I would agree), this time it took on a new meaning for me all about time. Time.
There’s an incredibly satisfying element of wish fulfillment as Phil Connors (Bill Murray) begins to live his Groundhog Days not by taking advantage of others but by bettering himself in the service of others. He learns piano, the Heimlich Maneuver, how to recite french poetry, he saves the life of a homeless man and learns how to change a tire with three old ladies in a car, to name a few of his endeavors. But what’s underlying this transformation is time. Phil has lots and lots of time – and for all he knows it’s an infinite amount of time – to spend on these pursuits. We see approximately 38 different days on screen, but it’s widely acknowledged that the amount of time Phil spends reliving the same day is much longer. Harold Ramis initially put it at around 10 years, but later said it was more likely 30-40 years and, because the Internet is a strange and wonderful place and I didn’t have to try and calculate this out myself, one detailed analysis agrees Phil spent nearly 34 years re-living February 2nd.
The wish fulfillment in Groundhog Day is not because we all want to learn to play the piano or learn how to ice sculpt. It’s that we all want to have the time to do the things we love, learn the things we’ve always wanted to, bettering ourselves and spending more time caring about others than we do about ourselves.
But time is not infinite. It’s limited and precious, and for those reasons all the more valuable. We may not have enough time to learn everything we want to, to achieve everything we set out to, to help everyone everywhere who needs help. But we can choose to spend the time we have bettering ourselves, engaging in fulfilling endeavors, and helping those who need our help.
As a new father of a beautiful and smiley 6-month old, time has become even more meaningful, and the choices I’m making all the more poignant: being home for dinner as a family every night; having bath time and story time; being there for every pediatrician appointment; getting up in the middle of the night when she needs us and letting my wife get some very needed rest. And these are all easy decisions.
But it also means making the time for myself, to fulfill myself, so that I can be the best father and husband, and the best version of myself as possible. And that includes my commitment to whatever this blog thing is. So I’ve taken two months to write my third post – and in Phil Connors time that’s almost nothing – but in many ways it feels like Groundhog Day every day I think about writing something and end up not having the time (or energy or patience) to sit down and do it. But today is different. And as Phil says: “Anything different is good”. And maybe there will also be a tomorrow.