The (not so) Long Winter

Photo by Barry Reeger/AP

Well, It’s Groundhog Day again… and that of course means another post about one of my favorite films, 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. It is certainly an influential one. 

Murray plays Phil Connors, a self-absorbed Pittsburg Weatherman who is insulted by having to cover the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, PA, and their resident groundhog weatherman, Punxsutawney Phil who shares his name and occupation as a prognosticator of weather. Phil gets caught in a time loop that causes him to relive the same day, February 2nd, over and over.

I first wrote about Groundhog Day in 2022. In that post I compared Phil’s plight to our collective situation due to COVID. I wrote that during the pandemic “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 went on to say: “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.” Of course, being OK with something doesn’t mean being happy about it. 

It’s hard to say where we are in 2024. I’ve been a “glass half full” kind of guy most of my life yet I’ll admit that the last several years have been a challenge. But when you stop to think about the fact that this life isn’t supposed to be easy—that you are expected to have trials and tribulations—it seems we are on the right track of doing what we were created to do. Is it easy to become depressed, is it possible to succumb to inertia? Heck yeah!

At the beginning of the film, Phil has the wrong idea about winter. He gives his angry assessment of his situation saying: “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!”

Sometimes you just need to stop for a moment and take stock of your life. Do a puzzle, go to the mall, shovel some snow, or go to your boyfriend’s football game. When you do these things either voluntarily or via mandate, you might begin to see things a bit more clearly in retrospect.

When I look back over past accomplishments, I am reminded that some of the most creative and productive periods of my life took place during difficult times: floods, tornados, pandemics, derechos (didn’t even know what that was before coming to Iowa), and snow disasters all accompanied periods of doubt and depression but also (coincidentally) bursts of creativity. It may take months or years for ideas hatched during difficult times to come together, but the fact is that eventually the best ideas make their way from imagination to reality. Like Phil, you may have to survive a long winter (or two).

Many fans of Groundhog Day believe 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 entrapment on February 2nd. Maybe that’s true for the pandemic or any other type of setback. I don’t know, but it couldn’t hurt to give that approach a try. 

In the third act, Phil finally gets a new outlook on winter as he completes his final report from Punxsutawney: “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.”

Today is Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil (the real one) uncharacteristically has predicted an early Spring, something he has done only 21 times since 1887. It’s the fourth time since 2014 Phil has rendered this prediction. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reminds us that “on average, Phil has gotten it right 30% of the time over the past 10 years,” so there is that.

Shadow or no shadow, Phil probably just thought that there’s nothing wrong with giving folks a little hope during these uncertain times. I am OK with that.

Happy Groundhog Day and Happy Winter!

“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