Editorial: Groundhogs and new beginnings

  • Groundhog Club handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 131st celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., on Feb. 2, 2017. AP

Friday, February 02, 2018

Unless you’re in Punxsutawney, Pa., on
Feb. 2, Groundhog Day may not seem like much of a holiday. The tradition is pretty simple: A rodent named Phil pops out of a “burrow” that is surrounded by a bunch of smiling guys with big black hats and long overcoats. If he sees his shadow, that means six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring will arrive early. Who needs the National Weather Service when you have a celebrity woodchuck on the case?

But in 1993, Harold Ramis’s film Groundhog Day changed the meaning of the holiday forever. It’s no longer a day for weather prognostication; it is a day to change the course of one’s life.

The film is about a narcissistic, ambitious weatherman named Phil Connors, who is less than thrilled to be in Punxsutawney to cover the festivities. After a hard day of being an obnoxious human being, Phil goes to sleep in a quaint bed and breakfast and wakes up the next morning to find that it is Groundhog Day once again. This happens over, and over, and over. Thousands of Groundhog Days – the same Groundhog Day – come and go. Worst of all, Phil has no idea why it’s happening – and neither does the audience. It’s a simple plot, so simple in fact that plenty of viewers feel, like Phil, tortured by the repetition. But this is no silly comedy. It’s a blueprint for bliss.

When the initial confusion of repeating the same day subsides a bit, Phil does what a lot of people do when they feel hopelessly trapped in a life they do not want and cannot bear: He seeks oblivion. He manipulates women to get them into bed. He drinks alcohol until he is numb. He commits crimes because the consequences are meaningless. He wields his self loathing as a weapon against anyone and everyone, finding something resembling joy in the misery he inflicts on others. When there is nothing left that makes him feel alive, he kills himself, repeatedly, just to avoid having to live through another Groundhog Day.

While he cannot destroy his body, he manages to do something rare and extraordinary. He destroys the ego.

Phil may be a fictional character, but what he discovers is available to everybody who wants it. When you begin to see life as something that happens around you rather than to you, there is happiness even in the most mundane existence. Rather than seeking oblivion, Phil learns to play the piano and create ice sculptures. He reads literature and listens to classical music. He looks for every opportunity to serve others and become a better friend. He comes to understand what it means to love and be loved. He learns that life, even a repetitive one, is rich with possibility.

Maybe you woke up this morning to the same alarm, at the same time, in the same bed, with the same amount of stress as the day before – and the one before that. Maybe today will be like so many other weekdays, and you will head into the weekend already dreading the Monday to come. Maybe you’ll say to yourself that there’s got to be a better way.

Lucky for you, today is Groundhog Day.