I loved Bill Murray's 1993 movie, Groundhog Day! It's my favorite kind of film, funny with a profound message. We can get stuck in the same place, doing the same thing, every last day of our lives, until we finally get it right. Until we change ourselves.
Phil Connors is an arrogant, cynical, sarcastic weatherman who has come to Punxsutawney, PA on February 2 to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration. He's the kind of guy who no one can stand, and he could care less. To Phil this is a backwater town, and the assignment is beneath him. And to make matters worse he discovers he's in the middle of huge cosmic joke that condemns him to living the same day, February 2 over and over again. Every blessed morning he wakes up to Sonny & Cher singing, "It Ain't Me Babe". Eats the same breakfast & covers the same Groundhog Day festival, sees the same annoying people.....until he gets it right!
Before I saw Groundhog Day I had read Ellen Goodman's column about the movie. Fifteen years later I still think about what the movie meant to her and I just have to share her Zen teaching:
In the middle of the movie Phil says in utter despair to a man sitting next to him at a bar, "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was the same and nothing mattered?"
What would you do if you woke up in the same place and every day was the same?
For most people, middle age is a little bit like that. It's long past the time of life when most of us were building our careers, beginning our families and nesting. It's the maintenance stage when an extraordinary amount of energy is going to upkeep - keeping up the commitments you have. One morning inevitably looks a lot like the one before it.....
But in real life, those of us who do not want to start over in the middle face a different test of renewal. Daily renewal. Getting up in the same place, doing the same things - only making it matter.
So we have to figure out how to make the best of what we have.
Making the best of what we have....is not second best. It is rather, a demand for active engagement in caring for what and whom we value.
That is what's touching about Groundhog Day. Our trapped weatherman has to learn this the hard way. His life is reduced to one inescapable day. It's the entire deck he's been dealt, the allotment of flowers he can arrange, the cast of characters in his life.
He goes through stages of feeling trapped, depressed, and living as if there's no tomorrow. He finally comes to the not-so-profound-but-still-pretty-rare realization that he can change his world by changing himself.
..it's about making the best of what you have...over and over. Making small repairs and improvements so that the commitments of midlife--the work you do and people you love--don't become a trap. They become and remain the town in which you choose to live even when you have options.
Groundhog Day is the perfect renewal movie when we're trapped in the middle of dreary winter. And thank you so much, Ellen Goodman for your Zen teaching about mid-life change.