Breaking the Groundhog Day Cycle

One of the highlights of my week is making Havdalah for the little children attending the Early Learning Centres on a Monday morning. Last week, just before I started singing, I tried to explain to the children that it felt like yesterday was Monday and that I was just there but in fact a whole week had already gone by. I was being honest, it feels like the weeks are flying by and that Monday comes around more often than any other day of the week. I am not sure if the children understood the point I was trying to make, they just wanted to start singing but one of the teachers responded, “that’s called groundhog day”. That resonated with me because I have heard numerous people refer to the last few weeks, perhaps even months as ‘groundhog day’. Have you had that feeing of waking up and asking yourself what day it is? Or wandering if you went to the supermarket (or ordered online) yesterday or today? Have you felt that the week moves from weekend to weekend with the weekdays all meshing and blending together? Then you too have experienced groundhog day syndrome.

Those of us who were around in 1993 (yes, that’s when the movie was released), might be familiar with the Hollywood blockbuster, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andy MacDowell. It is based on the popular North American tradition that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on the 2nd February and sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will continue for six more weeks. If it does not see its shadow due to cloud cover, spring will arrive early. 

In the movie, TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is dispatched to the easy-going town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (a real town, population 5,990) to cover the annual February 2 celebrations revolving around a groundhog predicting the arrival of Spring. Phil makes no secret of his contempt for the assignment, the small town, and the locals who live there, asserting that he will soon be leaving his station for a new job. On February 2, Phil wakes up to Sonny & Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ playing on the clock radio. He experiences the previous day’s events over and over again, gradually realising he is in a time loop that no one else is aware of (hence the expression groundhog day, when every day seems to be the same). Most of the movie involves Phil reliving the same day trying desperately to break the cycle but is unsuccessful. Eventually he confides in his producer, Rita (Andy MacDowell), who encourages him to think of the loops as a blessing instead of a curse. Phil accepts Rita’s advice and decides to use the knowledge he has gained while trapped, to change himself and others. He saves people from deadly accidents and misfortunes, and learns to play the piano, sculpt ice and speak French. It is only when Phil realises and acknowledges the blessings that are present in his life, the blessings right under his nose that the spell is broken. It takes some time, but he learns that in helping others, in giving of himself to others, he is in fact receiving a far greater reward.

After havdalah, the lightbulb switched on. It is precisely during this period in our calendar, during the month of Elul that we too need to reflect on the weekly, even monthly loops that exist within each of our lives. While there is no doubt that restrictions and closures have exacerbated and intensified this groundhog day syndrome, they have the potential to also force us to reflect on the blessings which are present in our lives but remain invisible. Our blessings may be different, some may have more, others less. Some may comprehend them quicker, others may take some time, but they are there, we just need to look for them or have others help us a little to see them because (and I speak for myself), I rarely find items I am looking for, especially when they are right in front of me.

Breaking the groundhog day cycle is not easy. But we do have some help in the form of a daily reminder. Each morning we listen to the sounds of the shofar. Albeit most of us are hearing this via a device, the function of the shofar remains the same (the sound is also pretty similar). Rambam (Maimonides) famously writes that the message conveyed through the sounds of the shofar is to “Wake up sleepy ones from your sleep. Inspect your deeds, repent. Improve your ways and your actions”(Hilchot Teshuva 3:4). Had Phil heard the tekiah, shevarim and teruah of the shofar each morning instead of Cher’s ‘I’ve Got You Babe’, I wander if he would have remained in Punxsutawney for as long as he did. 

While it may seem like there is nothing we can do but sit at home, the shofar reminds us that there are many things we can still do to escape from groundhog day syndrome (I have tried some of these and they definitely work):

  • We can still leave our homes and go for a walk or run. Try a new route or go down a street or path you have never explored (perhaps try during daylight hours, just in case).
  • Play a game with the whole family like monopoly, a card game or a puzzle.
  • Have the whole family assist with making dinner (start with one night, just in case)
  • Clear your mind. With stay-home restrictions, it is important to make space for focused breathing. There are apps like ‘Headspace’ or ‘My Life’ that can make mindful breathing part of your daily routine.
  • Take a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn. There are plenty of Youtube clips which can teach you how to Latin dance or cook that perfect flourless chocolate cake. 
  • Reach out to family who you have not spoken to in years. 
  • Get stuck into your garden. Weed, cut or prune those bushes (perhaps refer to Youtube first, just in case).
  • Start a new project or list all those jobs you want to get done around the house. Decide which one you want to start with and make sure you start (you may want to check with your partner first, just in case)

The Shofar is a call for help, a call to G-d to forgive us from any wrongdoing. Rosh Hashanah is a time of celebration and a time to usher in another year. But it is also a time we commit ourselves to being better human beings. We learn from past mistakes, ask for forgiveness and make resolutions to improve – to be kinder to others, to support those in need, to act honourably and ethically and to love each other more. All of which are needed now more than ever before. The shofar serves as a reminder, it is a call to each of us to wake up and transform our thinking into action. May the new year ahead bring with it sweetness, health and happiness to each and every one of us.


About the author

Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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