Well, It’s Groundhog Day… Again

In our house, it is a February tradition to watch the Harold Ramis film Groundhog Day. The film, starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott, was released in 1993 and has continued to gain popularity. According to IMDB it is one of the best films of that year, topping Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park in popularity and earning a BAFTA Film award, among other accolades. Many consider it to be one of the best movies of all time. 

Murray plays Phil Connors, a self-absorbed Pittsburg Weather Man who is insulted by having to cover the Groundhog Day festival in Punxsutawney, PA, and their resident groundhog weather man, Punxsutawney Phil. He fears that if someone sees him interviewing a groundhog they might think he “doesn’t have a future.” Soon, he will learn that no one knows their own future.

“Come on, all the long distance lines are down? What about the satellite? is it snowing in space? Don’t you have some kind of a line that you keep open for emergencies or for celebrities? . . . I’m both. I’m a celebrity in an emergency.” — Phil

The film influenced popular culture by helping to coin the phrase “Groundhog Day,” which refers to a repetitive or monotonous task or situation. Phil gets caught in a time loop that causes him to relive the same day, February 2nd, over and over. The movie has also spawned a contemporary phenomenon on social media and in text messages of engaging friends in arcane-quote-battles (or so I’ve heard).

“You want a prediction about the weather? You’re asking the wrong Phil. I’m going to give you a prediction about this winter? It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey and it’s going to last you for the rest of your lives!” — Phil

Religious groups, psychoanalysts, economists, and even the military have embraced the film as an allegory for their particular beliefs. It is said that Murray and Ramis argued over the tone of the film but as often-is-the-case, great films often transcend (thankfully) the people who create them. A film maker friend once told me that most creators don’t think about subtext when they are making a film because they are just focused on getting it done. He said, “it’s the movie goers and the critics who come up with what a film ‘means.’”

“I peg you as a glass half empty kind of guy.” — Gus

But we’ve all been stuck in a time loop since 2020, haven’t we? Everyone keeps hoping that one day someone will declare that the pandemic is over and we can all get on with our lives. But just as Phil Connors can’t be certain if tomorrow will be Groundhog Day or if it will finally be February 3, we’ll just have to wait and see. 

We won’t know for sure until after that clock-radio flips over to 6:00 am and the sound of Sonny and Cher fills the air for the final time. Of course, many fans of the film say that it was only after Phil began to feel genuine compassion and concern for others, more than himself, that he could be freed from his (likely) self-imposed time loop. Maybe that’s true for the pandemic as well. I don’t know, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.” — Phil

Lately, I’ve been in my own little Groundhog Day which was put into perspective for me by an automobile. On New Year’s Day, the clock in our car got stuck on January 1, 2022 at 1:00. After some clever fiddling with the system software, we now have it stuck on January 1, 2022—at 3:00. An internet search revealed that the navigation systems on certain car models have a glitch that may—or may not—correct itself sometime in August 2022. In the meantime, we are stuck just like Phil. 

“What if there is no tomorrow; there wasn’t one today.” — Phil

In 2020, I challenged myself to work more on my writing, and I was proud that I was able to create a new blog post every month for more than a year. But life and work can interfere with the best laid plans of mice and men, and I began to notice that while I completed a full list of tasks every day, I wasn’t making progress in other areas that were important to me.

I wrote a blog in September 2020 titled Stop the World (and let me off) Lessons Learned from a Pandemic. It was about how creatives were dealing with the isolation and challenges of the pandemic. Now, two years later it is clear that pandemic fatigue is still affecting me—along with everyone else. It seems there is more learning and adapting to do, but I’m OK with that.

In the end, Phil finally figures it out: The best way to get out of a rut is to focus on the people in your life and look for ways to be a better you—for them!

“Sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes. I don’t know, Phil. Maybe it’s not a curse. Just depends on how you look at it.” — Rita

PS: There is also some really great music in this film, particularly the main theme. Weatherman was written by George Fenton and Harold Ramis, and sung by Delbert McClinton.

East Texas Recollectus: Angels We Have Heard…

If you grew up in Texas like I did, then you’ve likely participated in more than a few holiday performances this time of year: Christmas cantatas, Messiah sing-alongs, or Christmas Pageants. 

Our church was a small congregation with a couple of paid pianists and a choir director. The choir usually numbered fewer than ten volunteers, and the choir director was always trying to recruit members so we might do more adventurous (for Southern Baptists anyway) repertoire. The big churches had the forces to mount full-scale productions: the Christmas cantatas and Messiah-sing-alongs (and as I got older, I played timpani on a lot of Messiah gigs). But our small church rarely got to mount a big production.

One year, when I was very young, the time seemed right to do a full-blown theatrical version of The Nativity Story. This was an all-hands-on-deck production with costumes, lights, sets, and dramatic readings with music and action. I was cast (not typecast, mind you) as the Angel Gabriel.

I had two big moments: first was to appear to Mary to tell her that she would bear a child, and then later to announce to the shepherds the birth of the Baby Jesus. My costume was a white robe with cardboard wings and a home-made contraption of coat hangers and silver tinsel to create an uncomfortable but cool-looking halo. It took a while to learn my lines, but I was confident.

Our dress rehearsal was beset with difficulties. A church elder was struggling to deliver his lines, and out of frustration he shouted, “The lights are so dern bright, I can’t see what I’m saying!” My cool halo rig wasn’t going to work with my wings on, so it was decided to simply place the tinsel halo on top of my head—bummer!

The next evening, the performance was going well. Gabriel appeared to Mary saying, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.” My first line delivered! Then came time to address the shepherds: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

You may see the potential for error here: both lines begin with “fear not.” So, I announced to the shepherds that they were to “bring forth a son.” I caught the mistake just as I heard my friends (the shepherds) snickering beneath their keffiyehs. I stopped mid-sentence and smacked my forehead with a “duh” gesture that knocked my halo askew, then started again. After my soliloquy, the choir sang Angels We have Heard on High, probably wondering if they had heard the angel correctly. I never lived down my revelation to the shepherds, and it is one of my mother’s favorite stories.

Despite that theatrical setback, I have always loved Christmastime. In addition to its importance to my faith, I just enjoy the music. I’ve created a Christmas video for Public Television in Montana, recorded an album titled Good Christmas Vibes, and published several musical arrangements of holiday music.

Every year (until 2020, of course), Iowa Percussion has presented a Holiday Percussion Pops concert that welcomes winter and kicks off the season in Iowa City. Audience members bring a food item for the local food bank, and over the years we’ve collected a few tons of food to help families in our community: University of Iowa faculty, staff, and students doing their bit as angels.

The Voxman Angels (Jenny Hall, Kate Vos, Pauline Wieland) delivering to the Food Bank in 2018.

In 2011, I started recording a holiday video each year as a greeting to family and friends. I missed a few years here and there, but then released eight videos in one year from the Good Christmas Vibes recording, so I suppose it all evens out. I thought I would share this story and the 2020 video of my recording of Angels We Have Heard on High to say thanks to all the angels in my life—both human and divine—who watch over me . . . and you.

Merry Christmas!

Recommended Reading

Luke 1:26-35

Luke 2:8-14

Recommended Listening:

Angels We have Heard on High

Dan Moore’s Holiday Playlist