My life as a groundhog: A personal essay

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

First of all, what the hell is a groundhog? I want you to picture a groundhog right now. What do you see? For me, I see myself. Yes, I’m a groundhog, and so are you. And I mean that in the absolute best way.  

When I was young – a  brown-haired, little, ferocious beast  – I first stared into my adorable, animal-like mirror image in the cinematic form of Punxsutawney Phil, the titular groundhog in “Groundhog Day,” which stars famous comedian Bill Murray.

Many of us know the basics behind the tradition portrayed in the film: Phil, the groundhog of all groundhogs, comes out of his burrow every year on Feb. 2, and if he sees his shadow, there are six more weeks of winter ahead of us.  

In “Groundhog Day,” Murray — whose character uncoincidentally has the first name Phil — plays a pessimistic and egocentric weather forecaster on location in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. After disrespecting the people of Punxsutawney with his cynicism and selfishness, he must relive Groundhog Day over and over again until he changes his ways. Throughout the film, he struggles to come to terms with this. The events of the film are roughly illustrated as follows:

  1. Phil initially acts without a care in the world,
  2. then he becomes depressed and mean,
  3. and, finally, he emerges as a changed, selfless person, helping all the Punxsutawney townspeople, whom he once called “hicks.”

After seeing this film recently, I thought about what it could mean in the grand scheme of it all.  In doing this, I looked back at one of the first things that Murray recognizes after gaining his self-described “immortality” as a result of the time loop: Carpe diem. What if there were no tomorrow?  

Throughout my life, it has been my instinct to seize opportunities that I truly want in order to become happy and successful. But it is my past that lets me understand that there are consequences to certain things we may want that are detrimental to ourselves and others.

In “Groundhog Day,” Phil learns about what does and does not fulfill him. He realizes that he’s not fulfilled even though he can choose to become rich, gluttonous and greedy, as there are no real consequences the next day. Rather, the consequences lie in his conscience. Instead of living frivolously, he discovers that finding new passions – such as learning to play the piano – are actually more fulfilling. In this regard, the past can be relied upon to figure out what is good for us and what isn’t.

Throughout my life, it has been my instinct to seize opportunities that I truly want in order to become happy and successful. But it is my past that lets me understand that there are consequences to certain things we may want that are detrimental to ourselves and others.

In another part of the film, Phil realizes his future is bleak because of the fact that he has never been able to escape the past, which for him has been the extreme example of thousands of days spent living the same events over and over again. At this point in the movie, he says, “I’ll give you a prediction about the weather (future)… You’re asking the wrong Phil. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.”

That brings me to when last week, right before Groundhog Day, I saw my own shadow and wanted to creep just a little bit back into my own dark hole, forecasting a dark winter to come. But life is made up of days that we would like to never repeat, days that we would love to repeat and all those in between.

For one, I would not in a million years want to relive a certain day from last week over and over again, and the reason for that is my fear of the past.

My roommates and I had a great disagreement regarding the workings of our apartment –– a disagreement so big and gigantic that I thought it would be the end of our friendship. They were mad at me for habits I had last semester and began to make assumptions based on what I had done in the past and that I would repeat them in the future.

I said, “If I haven’t done anything now, in the present, to make you feel this way, why are you pointing a finger at me?” In fact, they were afraid of the past repeating itself, and they told me so. As they put it, “The past is facts. That’s the only way we can look at it.”

But how are we supposed to move to the future if we rely only on the past?  

We need to take responsibility for what we do in the past, even if we ourselves find it trivial.  However, at what point does bringing the past into the present become detrimental? Life is not as simple as a few dirty dishes in the sink.

I thought it was unfair to make negative assumptions based on the past as we move toward the future. However, I understand where my roommates were coming from. I, too, was guilty of the same thing. For one, my argument with my friends made me think that they were ganging up on me as other people have done in a number of bullying experiences that have happened to me in the past. It was my insecurity and fear of rejection that caused me to react so strongly to them the way I did. But they are not bullies; they are my friends — and it is our other memories that helped us both remember that in the end.

This past week I also realized that I was repeating the past for the worst in other areas in my life. Recently, I really hurt someone I truly care about as a result of a judgment I made based on my past experiences, and I didn’t realize I had made that mistake until I had a conversation with them. I also started to fear that I would fail my French class even though it was only the second week of school because I thought I was starting to have the same trouble I had in one of my previous French classes. As if that weren’t enough, I then got extremely sick and figured that I would become as sick as I had once before in the past despite the two illnesses not being close to related.  

The past can help us shape our future for good or for bad. We can learn from the past and try to live better lives in the future, or we can hold on to our past and allow it to negatively influence us.

At the end of “Groundhog Day,” Phil has a revelation and proclaims, “No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.” When he wakes up the next morning, he has finally moved onto Feb. 3.

The past can help us shape our future for good or for bad. We can learn from the past and try to live better lives in the future, or we can hold on to our past and allow it to negatively influence us. I am not saying that we need to be perfect now, that we need to force ourselves to be perfect in the eyes of ourselves or even in the eyes of others. Whether we are seizing the day, living like there is no tomorrow, learning to love doing the things we love, falling into states of depression or giving into our fears, we have to understand that all of these are part of life.

We can only live in the moment. Our do-overs do not come from a time loop. They come from living. Life is Groundhog Day. It’s winter, it’s spring and all the other seasons. Our mistakes, trials and tribulations, as well as our happiness, joy and hope, are Groundhog Day. No matter which phase of life you are in, you’re moving forward, and you are learning. There are periods in our lives where it seems like nothing changes. But the reality is that we are changing every second. We just have to take the time to notice. None of us can ultimately predict the future. Sometimes we need to be obsessed with the past and at the same time recognize that it’s the present moment and what you choose to do with it that counts.

As Phil says in the film when he comes out of the loop, “Today is tomorrow.” I wish everyone the early spring that (Punxsutawney) Phil has predicted this year.  

Sincerely,
Your fellow groundhog

Contact Kristen Hull at [email protected]