I’m not necessarily what you would call a religious person, at least not in the usual sense. I have no creeds or dogmas. I neither attend, nor am I affiliated with, any religious institutions. Yet, I am “religious” in the way that I organize my work and my days. I thrive best amidst the ritualized observances of my daily practices of reading, writing, making art, and meditating, and because these are things I am committed to doing daily, at the same time, and often in the same manner, they take on a spiritual quality.
With that being said there are still certain days within my calendar year that are holy days, perhaps even high-holy days. For example last week contained one such sacred of days. Last Tuesday was Groundhog Day, and for those of us who have been deeply touched by the blessed benevolence of St. William of Murray, this truly is a day of great rejoicing.
That night, after work, as a dutiful disciple in the sacred order of Bill, I faithfully watched Groundhog Day with reverence and joy. Groundhog Day, like all sacred documents, reveals something fresh to us each time we revisit it.
In the rabbinical tradition of the the Jewish faith, the Torah is often referred to as a jewel with seventy faces, because like a jewel, each and every time that it’s turned whole new refractions of light reveal something never seen before. I think movies like Groundhog Day work the same way.
Some might say it’s nostalgia, but I think maybe it’s something more. Maybe in revisiting these moments in our cinematic viewing history we gain insight into the mindset of where we once were and where we are now. Maybe in recollecting these sacred remnants of our pop culture past we too are allowed to witness strange tricks of the light that permit us to not only see things we’ve missed, but to see differently; perhaps, in a whole new way.
In the gospel story that is Groundhog day, we are introduced to asshole weatherman Phil Connors, played by none other than his Holiness Bill Murray. Connors travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on assignment to cover the Groundhog festival. Phil hates the town, hates the festival, and loathes the entire experience. He can’t wait to be done and he can’t wait to get out. Yet, Connors becomes inexplicably trapped in some kind of time loop, forced to relive the same day, February 2nd, Groundhog day, over and over again.
Phil Connors is rude and abrasive, narcissistic and jaded. He is conceited, condescending and tactless. He is…me….
Phil Connors is a caricature of all my worst qualities; cold, uncaring, self-absorbed, incredibly negative, and utterly ungrateful.
I’m Phil Connors.
This disheartening realization made an otherwise lighthearted movie into something heavy and poignant.
Yet, it is heartening to know that Connors got it right…eventually.
We’re so used to stories of “second” chances, stories where a character has one big fuck up, falls from grace, loses it all, but then makes an unparalleled come back in one final moment of glory. But, they never even make it to strike two. They swing. They miss. Strike one. But then, they regain their composure, step up to bat again, and knock it out of the park. Feels a little like bullshit to me.
Phil’s story is more realistic because he goes far beyond strike three.
Phil changed, but only after an innumerable amount of failed attempts.
He became something better, but only after the bleakest of trials and errors.
He broke the cycle, but only after a barrage of depression, despondency, and self-destruction.
His transformative metamorphosis came about not in a climactic moment of instantaneous realization, but instead, it arrived amidst an almost infinite expanse of minute and incremental adaptations.
That’s how Evolution happens, in stages and steps, moving slowly and perhaps, even agonizingly.
I’m Phil Connors, yes, but not the seemingly irredeemable Phil Connors of the beginning. Nor am I the fully redeemed Phil Connors of the end. I’m Phil Connors mid-shift; Phil Connors somewhere in the precarious in-between, wrestling with what it means to reach redemption….
For extended durations we are seemingly producing nothing, and it feels like we’re getting nowhere. But, then, somewhere in the terror and bewilderment, something changes, something arrives, something comes into being and comes to life, and that’s the stuff that really matters.
The lessons learned through tedium and trouble are the ones that we are truly transformed by.
As E.M. Cioran says “There is never too great a distinction made between those who have paid for the tiniest step toward knowledge and those, incomparably more numerous, who have received a convenient, indifferent knowledge, a knowledge without ordeals.”
May you find redemption in the ritual repetitions of you days.
May your failures be the fruition of finding your way.
May the gradual gradients of grace always guide you home.
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Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.