"To serve is to Live"
Most of us, I imagine, are familiar with the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ which has become to mean a kind of monotonous, unpleasant, and very repetitive situation that we can’t seem to escape from- as if we were stuck in some kind of time warp. Life under COVID-19 might possibly qualify as a ‘ ground hog day’ moment?
It comes from the very funny film comedy ‘Groundhog Day’ made in 1993 and starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, where Murray as a cynical TV weatherman keeps on waking up each day and the very same thing happens to him every single day- he does the same things, he meets the same people, he has the same conversations, and the next day is exactly the same- until he changes one important thing.
The film is very funny but for Christians in particular ‘Groundhog Day’ can have a deeper spiritual meaning.
The film starts with Bill Murray as pessimist a weatherman as any onscreen ‘Scrooge’, who each year has to travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to film a piece to camera about a groundhog who comes out of his burrow each year on a particular day to decide when winter will end and spring begins.
He travels with beautiful TV producer Andie McDowell who he is keen to impress but each day, in his hotel room, he is woken up by his radio alarm at exactly 6am to the tune of Sonny & Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ and he meets the same people each day and that cycle is repeated day after day. His shower is always icy cold, the same person in the B&B he is staying at asks him the same question on the stairs, he always leaves and avoids a homeless person, is harassed by an insurance salesman and finally, without fail, he walks into icy water.
No matter what Bill Murray’s character does to try and change his day it does not alter in that he still wakes up the next day at the same time to the same repetitive experiences.
To begin with, he regards it as a golden chance of doing whatever he wants as he realises that there are absolutely no consequences to his actions- if he crashes his car he will not die, he can eat what he wants as again he will not suffer any health implications, he can steal money because he will never be caught, and he can sleep with whoever he wants as that person will forget about them the next day. But he becomes increasingly depressed by the monotony of living a life where truly ‘tomorrow never comes’.
However eventually he gains wisdom. He realises that doing those things for his own gluttony or financial or sexual gain does not satisfy or fulfil him, and he starts to realise that by understanding people, being nice to them and helping them, that his life takes on fresh new meaning. He begins to serve people rather than using them to serve his own selfish wants. He gives money and food to the homeless man he normally avoids, he gets to know the insurance man who normally irritates him, he fixes peoples’ tyres, he saves others’ lives. A knock on effect of that is for Andie McDowell who had been repelled by his romantic overtures, she starts to genuinely fall for him as he is ‘reborn’. And then he wakes up at 6am and although he is woken by ‘You’ve Got Me, Babe’ again, the 24 hour cycle of his life is finally broken, and he can truly move on in his newly vital life.
The Jesuits in particularly adore ‘Groundhog Day’ and see it as something that espouses their own particular Christian faith and in particular that those of us who walk this earth are called to help others and seek God in all things.
That is what Bill Murray’s character in the film does – he learns that rather than doing things for his own glory he should act by helping people in whatever situation they find themselves- if they are destitute -bring them comfort, if they are dying - be with them or if they are just in need of some help-aid them.
As Christians this is perhaps the most important lesson for us to learn and live our lives through – to help and love others.
When you next see ‘Groundhog Day’, you may see it rather differently!