Groundhog Day reminds us to work toward improvement


For most people on this spinning ball of mud and gas, the second day in February passes like… For most people on this spinning ball of mud and gas, the second day in February passes like any other. For the slightly more interested, they know that today is in fact Groundhog Day – the celebration of a small mammal’s ability to predict changes in the weather and if spring is on the way. For those of us that live in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we might even be inclined to visit the great town of Punxsutawney and see Phil the Groundhog predict if we will have an early spring. If he sees his shadow, it’s six more weeks of cold, hard winter – the groundhog equivalent of a meteorological bitch-slap. If he doesn’t, then spring is around the corner, but since spring is on March 21 this year, it’s actually longer than six weeks. Go figure.

So why do we even bother? Why celebrate a day that has no real meaning? A lot of people just like having something to cheer them up during the darker parts of winter. Others like seeing the spectacle up north. But I picked up a different reason when I was about seven.

I spent a significant amount of my childhood in a small town north of Chicago. Meaninglessly named “Woodstock,” this town of about 16,000 could only boast that Chester Gould, the creator of the Dick Tracy cartoon strip, lived there for more than 40 years. But in 1992, something slightly more significant happened – some Hollywood types decided to film a movie in our town. Titled “Groundhog Day” and starring Bill Murray, it would depict a forlorn weatherman reliving the same day – get this – Groundhog Day, over and over again. Now I know what you’re thinking, but you’re completely wrong. “Groundhog Day” was filmed in Woodstock, Il. Go check the Internet Movie Database, I’ll wait.

Now that you know I am right, we can keep going. The whole town was turned over to cameras, lights and eventually fake snow. (The filming took longer than predicted, so they had to use potato flakes.) We could all watch Murray from a distance as he continually stepped in a mud puddle outside of our courthouse, strolled around our town square and pretended to eat large amounts of food from the small, nearby restaurant. We could see his stunt double leap from the top part of our town’s opera house, and watch we did. It was enthralling to us. Even my mother, who was not as distracted as us kids, still managed to ruin a shot by walking out of the crafts store as Murray walked by. And most of the used books sitting on piles in various scenes came from the used bookstore that my parents owned. Many people I knew were extras in the crowded scenes with townspeople, and they enjoyed it immensely.

So whenever I see the movie, I feel a strong connection to not just the location, but the theme behind it. Murray relives the same day thousands of times, and his reaction ranges from being aggressively suicidal to being lovingly selfless. But what eventually breaks him from the cycle of monotony and sameness that plagues him is to become a better person. Not just by learning to play the piano or by going through the motions, but by learning that it is indeed a noble idea to act out of selflessness and learn how to live better amongst well-earned friends. Essentially, Murray’s perception of his life and the people in it is enlightened. Instead of just slogging through life and repeating the same motions repeatedly – something many of us do without realizing it – he learns to value the time he spends and to make the most of it.

I know, it sounds incredibly naive and even imbecilic. And I am not saying that I live every day to the fullest and other meaningless slogans. But every year, when Feb. 2 rolls around, I find it a helpful reminder to look not just at where I am in life (jobless and graduating) but who I spend time with and where I spend it. Do I enjoy what I do or am I just going through the motions? Are my plans for the future my own or just what is expected of me? And most of all, am I happy?

If I ask myself these questions and get an answer that I don’t like, I will try my best to do what Murray did in the movie – not electrocute myself – but instead work toward improvement. But keep in mind that this is not like a New Year’s resolution. There are no promises you need to make to yourself, it’s just something that you should be doing all the time and have been doing all along. For the most part I forget to do it, but when this time of year rolls by, and the cloudy and cold days might lead some inward, it’s a good time to see what you can do.

So pop in a movie that you can connect with and just enjoy yourself today. Then, make some time to find out how you can better enjoy and live all of your days. Cloudy days might be here now, but they will not last forever. The temperature will warm up, we will get breaks from school, and we will continue to try and go to class and focus at work.

So just remember: Today is Groundhog Day, and spring – regardless of the groundhog – is only a little more than six weeks away.

Living it up? E-mail Andy at [email protected].