Gene was 48 years old, divorced, an alcoholic. He came into the psychiatric hospital after trying unsuccessfully to hang himself. As I entered his room, he was crying: “Doc, I’ve screwed up so many things. I wish I could start over.”
But going back in time is simply not possible.
Nor should it be
Except in the epic 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”!
In this amazing movie, we watch Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) living the same day, February 2nd, over and over again. Phil starts off as a sarcastic and selfish man, ridiculing the people of Punksutawney, PA (where Groundhog Day takes place) as simpletons. But as the film progresses, as Phil Connors wakes up every morning and February 2nd is repeated over and over again, his selfishness ultimately changes and he refines his character.
It is precisely then, when Phil uses the day February 2nd to the fullest and does acts of goodness, that he finally wakes up and, alas, it is February 3rd!
In life, time moves on. We cannot stop it. It is our most valuable commodity. To recognize and live with the preciousness of time is powerful - while also knowing that the clock will turn into the next day and again to the next.
So, with Gene in mind, I arranged for the patients to watch “Groundhog Day” that night on the psych ward. I was hoping the film would strike a chord inside Gene, that he would see that in each day lies opportunity for a new start. That he would see the preciousness of time, that time moves inextricably forward, and that time allows us the chance to bring about radical change and transformation.
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Years after the movie version of “Groundhog Day”, it premiered as a Broadway musical. One man who came to see it was Bill Murray. Almost comically, after seeing it, he came again the next night - to experience “Groundhog Day”, again! The NY Times wrote that at one moment Murray was seen weeping. Why? The Times wrote that Murray’s tears reflected the very potent idea that in life “we just have to try again, we just have to try again.”
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The next morning, I asked Gene about his thoughts on “Groundhog Day”. All he could talk about was how funny it was. And how ridiculous it is to think that a little animal can predict the weather.
He then complained that no one in the hospital is helping him get better and that he’s shaking from coming off alcohol and there’s not enough food so could he please get double portions.
Oh well,… I thought to myself…
Time for me to keep trying, again, and again.
(My thanks to Rabbi Meir Soloveichik for his podcast which helped me with this blog.)