Dear Vincentian Friends,
Welcome to the first week in February, when we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, traditionally known as Candlemas Day and as the end to the Christmas season. But February 2 is also Groundhog Day. Tradition has it that the animal’s shadow predicts the end of winter weather. Winter is just one of the few things I wish we were done with right now.
This week’s odd observance is immortalized in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, which I happen to enjoy as a comedy and a parable. A Google search of the plot synopsis reads, “A cynical TV weatherman finds himself reliving the same day over and over again when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day.”
I have joked that some of our Council meetings have a Groundhog Day feel to them, with our reoccurring agendas and commentary. The experience of living in a repeating cycle is one to which many can relate. Right now, I think many of our days in COVID isolation feel a bit like that, too. Day after day, we may maintain a very familiar schedule. When will it end so we can move on?
If Groundhog Day is a film parable, what are the lessons we can take from it? Here are a couple of thoughts: After the reality of the situation is accepted and after moving on from being depressed, the lead character, played by Bill Murray, decides to work on being a better person. He starts to really observe the people around him.
With the luxury of getting to repeat each day, Murray’s character, Phil, sees things he previously missed about the people he interacts with. He is more intentional about how he lives each day. We can all benefit from being a little slower to judge, spending more time listening, and appreciating the people and places we encounter.
This big city weatherman thinks and acts as though covering this silly event is beneath him. After being stuck in this one day for months, his attitude changes. Sometimes, we think the tasks at hand are beneath us, and we miss the value of our own work and the work of others.
Eventually, Phil decides to try new and positive ways to make the day better for himself and those around him. Many of his efforts initially fail, but he takes the opportunity to try again and learn from the mistakes he made the previous day. Along the way, he gets things right. Unlike Phil, we really don’t need to be trapped in a time loop to learn from our failures. They are often our best teachers. In our conferences we often discourage creative ideas – especially those of new members – when we say, “We already tried it, and it didn’t work.”
The major lesson Phil learns is the power of simple kindness – of just being nice to people. He comes to find pleasure in helping others. Of course, he eventually gets the attention of his love interest, too. As Vincentians, we know the value of simple kindness. Mentoring our founders, Blessed Rosalie Rendu told them, “Be kind and love, for love is your first gift to the poor. They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than all else you can bring them.”
As the film progresses, the lead character is not only kind but also saves the lives of several people. Near the end of the film, however, he learns that he cannot save the old homeless man living on the street, even after multiple days of trying. This, too, is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some lives we cannot save, and some problems we cannot solve, but much of what matters is that we care enough to try.
I expect I will wake up tomorrow, and it will be a new day. Regardless of how life might feel at times, we are not stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop. We can all do better, however, at being attentive to the gift of each day we have on this earth. When our days seem difficult, it is an opportunity to place trust in the loving providence of God. Our Rule instructs Vincentians to accept and follow God’s plan, which “leads each one to nurture the seeds of love, generosity, reconciliation, and inner peace in themselves, their families, and all those whose lives they touch.” Let’s do that.
Serviens in spe,
SVdP National President