Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Becoming the Best Version of Ourselves

It’s Groundhog Day. Well, next Tuesday. The Beautiful Wife and I prepared by watching, one more time, that great 1993 movie of the same name. Remember weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) and his producer Rita Hanson (the delectable Andie MacDowell)? The movie has grown in esteem since release, now considered one of the greatest comedic films. I’ve watched it many times but I’m just getting started, which I should explain.

You’ll recall that Murray’s weatherman character is a narcissistic, self-absorbed, jerk assigned to cover Groundhog Day in what he dismisses as a hick town—Punxsutawney, Pa. His only relief is the presence of his uncomplaining producer, the lovely and gracious MacDowell. Murray proceeds to ruin the day for him and everyone around him. The next morning, he finds himself repeating the day, very much against his will. He’s trapped in a time loop, awakening each morning to, “Wake up campers, rise and shine.”

It seems there’s a lesson being taught: spoil the precious gift of a day of life badly enough, and you’ll have to repeat it until you get it perfect. There are other profound lessons in the movie, but I’m getting ahead of the story. Murray first struggles through the stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.

MacDowell’s character then makes a positive suggestion, that maybe this isn’t a curse, but a blessing. It’s a new idea for Murray, but one that grows into a self-improvement program. You don’t how many times the day is repeated, but it’s long enough to learn ice carving, French, and the piano.

Murray learns to serve others, memorizing all the places in that day where someone needs help—a boy falling from a tree, a guy choking on his steak, and especially, the homeless man dying, alone in an alley. Murray’s lesson is that service to others is transformational.

He becomes even inspirational, all the TV cameras turning to him, saying “when Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope… but standing here amongst the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearts and hearths, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

Murray then confides to MacDowell, who can’t hear him, “I’ve never seen anyone nicer than you are… The first time I saw you something happened to me… I don’t deserve someone like you, but if I ever could… .” And then, when she can hear, “When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel.”

Murray, who at first hated the movie and skipped the opening, has come to recognize it as his best work. It’s a movie about catharsis and redemption, at once uplifting and timeless. It’s a deeply spiritual story about our real goal in life: using our days to become the best version of ourselves. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email:  [email protected]

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