In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays jaded newscaster Phil Connors, inexplicably forced to relive the same miserable day over and over again. He’s stuck in a not-very-glamorous place doing not-very-remarkable tasks, and it appears this will go on forever. Despite his best (and worst) attempts, Phil is unable to affect any change in the world around him. Regardless of what he does, he wakes up in the same crappy bed listening to the same corny Sonny and Cher song over and over and over. It’s only when he’s encouraged to view this endless déjà vu as a blessing instead of a curse that things begin to change. Phil realizes that, though he’s stuck reliving the same day over and over, he can change how he spends that day. Instead of binge-eating and one-night stands, he learns to play the piano and speak French. And, of course, he falls in love. With Rita. In falling in love with Rita, Phil falls in love with Life. He doesn’t need a glamorous job or an extraordinary place to live. He begins to find happiness in the simple joy of day-to-day life. And as inexplicably as the curse arrived, it departs.
For many of us, Groundhog Day is a good depiction of life during Covid. There’s an unrelenting sameness that comes from not leaving the house to go to work; not needing to know what day of the week it is; not traveling or going out for a meal or a movie. Perhaps we’ve fallen into some of the same traps Bill Murray fell into – indulging in What-the-Hell addictions or What’s-It-Matter behaviors. That’s understandable. It’s easy right now to give up, to stop caring, to feel that it’s impossible to exert any control, to affect any change.
But the truth is, it has always been Groundhog Day. Most of us have always spent the vast majority of our days doing ordinary things in ordinary places. Brushing teeth, washing dishes, answering email, making a bed, seeing the same faces in the same familiar places.
What if the invitation of this time is to see that as a blessing, not a curse? To savor the ordinary, to relish the mundane, to take pleasure in the unremarkable.
At the end of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Emily is given the gift of perspective. Having just died, her ghost sees, in a flash, the tragedy of human life — how we let these oh-so-miraculous ordinary days slip through our fingers without appreciation…
“It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
Groundhog Day or Our Town. We choose. We may not be able to change the world today or even much about the way we spend this day. But we can choose how we live and how we love as we spend it.