The infuriating opportunity of Groundhog day

The other night my husband and I found ourselves watching that 90s classic Groundhog Day. A few minutes in I realised the irony of this choice, sitting in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic! That it was trending on Netflix is a good indicator of how people are feeling about going back into lockdown.

Despite all its clichés and predictability, it’s quite a lovely film in some ways. If you’ve not seen the film/heard the gist, ***plot spoiler alert!*** The main character, a surly weatherman called Phil, finds himself waking up and living the same day over and over again. He goes through a wide range of responses to his predicament starting with disbelief, moving to frenzied enjoyment and closely followed by desperate despair. But Phil discovers that however many times he tries to end it – by getting arrested, injured or killed – he simply cannot change his situation. He will always wake up to the same 6am alarm in the same bed in the same hotel room in the same small town in Pennsylvania.

The film was eerily resonant of the world right now. There’s a sense of stasis and repetition about the coronavirus situation. It fills the news, everyday activities and our brains. We can’t escape the impact it has on our lives. Completely normal things, like bumping into another family by accident in the park, make us question whether we are breaking the law. Since the first lockdown began, most of us went through similar stages to Phil – of disbelief, frenzied ‘making the most of it’ and desperation for everything to go back to normal. At times I have felt all three at once! Having lived with chronic illness, these cycles are actually quite familiar. Being unwell for a long time makes days repetitive and frustrating. The desire for pain to end and normality to return can become all-consuming. But this choice is not in our hands, and resignation to the reality of the limited opportunities we do have can be very releasing.

Towards the end of the film, Phil’s approach changes and starts to use his infinite time more wisely. He learns French to impress the woman he wants to win over, had piano lessons and scopes out where the people of the town will need help, making sure he is there on time every day to stop people being harmed. He becomes less selfish and his life regains purpose as he begins to give himself to people and activities that seemed insignificant and irritating before. Although he is still desperate for the nightmare to end, he decides that if this is how life will be, he might as well live it to the full. It challenged me to think about how I am seeing this next stage of pandemic-life. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “let’s just get through until lockdown ends,” and while looking forward can be helpful, I don’t want to miss the new, hidden gems I can find in this time, some of which I wrote about in my last blog.

At some point, the parallels between Covid-world and the movie end. Although we have had the wonderful news that a vaccine might be close at hand, we have no guarantees of when we will wake up to a ‘normal world’. The consequences of this pandemic will be seen across the globe for years – even decades – to come. But whenever and however this groundhog day ends, I want to be like Phil and find all the goodness I can while we’re in this difficult time, giving myself to people and valuing things that I did not before.

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