Saturday, February 2, 2013

Groundhog Day

When I was a kid growing up far, far west of the Shire,
I lived through many uncomfortable, bone-chilling winters.
When the temperature dropped below freezing, 
my blood took on the consistency of molasses,
and all I wanted to do was huddle under a blanket until the weather warmed up.
Every year, I really, really wanted Spring to arrive as early as possible.

Consequently, every February 2nd, I listened to the news with eagerness 
to see if the Pennsylvania groundhog Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow.
If he did, then I'd be delighted that my trial was almost over.
If he didn't, well, it meant six more weeks of wishing for a blanket 
--and a trip to the tropics.
Alas, it seems to me that Phil saw his shadow every year,
portending six more weeks of winter.
Until I realized Phil's powers were largely ceremonial,
I would feel genuine disappointment 
when the sun shone on his furry little head.

photo courtesy of

Then in 1993, the movie "Groundhog Day" 
with Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott came out.
I loved the story about the main character's existential crisis,
how he gets stuck in a day that never ends 
until he learns to become a better human being, 
as when Murray's character finally realizes that the old homeless man 
he had walked past on countless Groundhog Days 
was a human with a soul and not an annoyance.

Of course, there are some fine comedic moments,
like when Bill Murray's character "Phil" orders every pastry and cake in the diner
after he realizes it doesn't matter anymore if he eats well or not.
photo courtesy of

So I decided that watching this movie every year seemed like a good way
to celebrate the end of January and the beginning of February,
the month before spring arrives.
And more importantly, to cheer myself up in case Phil once again saw his shadow.

Over the years, every time I watched the movie,
when the scene with the table laden with pastries came on
I would wish I had some pastry to eat too.
I love pastries like donuts and bear claws and cinnamon rolls and eclairs,
all thick with sweet cheese and nuts and sugary frosting,
but I seldom indulge in them because, let's face it,
they are a tempting mixture of fat and sugar--not that good for us.

Then I had an idea.
Every year when I watched the movie, 
when Bill Murray started to eat his pastries,
I would have a small assortment to indulge in without guilt too.
And I did. And it was great.

photo courtesy of

One February 2nd, I hurried to a pastry shop in Norfolk
and bought a couple of delectable pastries.
As I was rushing out, I passed an old homeless man
whom I'd seen panhandling in the area several times.
And just like Murray's "Phil," 
I walked right past the old man like he wasn't there.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was in a Groundhog Day of my own.
Me, a bag of pastries for indulging in, a warm coat, a warm home to go to
to watch Groundhog Day, a movie about a man 
who learns to treat all people like they matter.
Me walking by a ragged, sick man sitting on the street,
his back against a cold brick wall, just like in the movie.
It was a weird, weird moment.

I got in my car and drove back to the man and gave him some money.
I know you aren't supposed to give panhandlers money.
I know it was likely he headed for a place to buy wine or drugs.
But it seemed like the right thing to do on a cold Groundhog's Day 
when Phil had seen his shadow.
I think for a second, I had seen mine too.

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