One of the benefits of having a captive audience in our teenage daughter is forcing her to watch some of our favorite movies with us. The other night we introduced her to Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray classic in which curmudgeonly weatherman Phil Connors is doomed to repeat the titular day over and over again in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania.
The story of Groundhog Day seems a fitting metaphor for our existence at home these days. Each day I awaken to the same agenda: make coffee, sit at my kitchen table, cook breakfast for my family, do my exercises, rinse, repeat. When the reality of his situation hits him, Phil Connors’ initial reaction is to throw caution to the winds. He eats tons of junk food, smokes, plays chicken with an oncoming train, and manipulates women into bed. Many of us have had a similar reaction, if the memes I’m seeing on Facebook are any indication. We are eating and drinking as if there were no tomorrow.
What I love most about Groundhog Day is the evolution of Phil’s character as he continues waking up every morning to a horrible Sonny and Cher song and a gloomy February day. After the novelty of robbing the Brinks truck and punching his nauseating former classmate in the nose wears off, Phil sinks into a depression. I have had a similar experience with the shelter in place order that took effect a mere month ago. Some days I struggle to be cheerful and have found myself crying for no reason at all. To be sure, the isolation created by this virus has been a challenge to the many people who suffer from mental illness. Unlike in the movie, their situation is no laughing matter.
Phil Connors is ultimately redeemed when he falls in love with TV producer Rita, a sweet-faced, kind, and generous woman played by Southerner Andie MacDowell. As he woos her, his lame attempts at romance invariably end up with a slap on the face. Ultimately, Rita’s character rubs off on Phil, and he finds himself wanting to be a better man. With his prescient knowledge of calamities that are about to befall the townspeople, he sets about working to save them: the boy falling from the tree, the choking mayor, and an elderly homeless man, whose death Phil can never prevent. Phil becomes Punxatawney’s favorite visitor and wins the heart of his lady love. And with his evolution into a better person, the spell is broken.
With perseverance, we too can find the redeeming qualities of our captivity in the world of coronavirus. We can work to keep our bodies healthy and our minds sane. We can try new recipes we’ve never had the time to try before. We can read the books we have piled up on our bedside table. We can tackle projects and maintain a schedule to keep the doldrums at bay. We can reach out in love to those around us – at least virtually.
Groundhog Day reminds us that our life is largely what we make of it. The pause many of us have been given is not a curse but a gift if we choose to see if that way.