Phil Connors, Pandemics and King Benjamin

Has anybody else had the Groundhog Day feeling lately? Everyday seems the same. (For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’m sad for you.) It has truly been a strange time, given the stay-at-home orders, closed businesses, layoffs and many working from home. And, like in the movie, it will eventually end.

While the movie Groundhog Day is considered a romantic comedy, I look at it with a lot more respect and meaning that most other movies. I find a depth in it that resonates with me spiritually. OK, I’ll help those who haven’t seen it by pasting a summary:

“Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, is out to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard that he didn’t predict and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.” (link)

That’s the premise, and I will definitely share some spoilers, but the movie is 27 years old, so no pity if you haven’t seen it yet.

The thing about Groundhog’s Day that speaks to me is the evolution of the main character, Phil, as he begins to live the same day over and over and over again.

When the time warp begins, he is angry and frustrated. He lashes out. He sees his situation as a curse, and acts accordingly. He realizes that what he does has no consequences because the next day comes, and he is in the exact same place. Nothing changes in his circumstances.

His response? He indulges his base desires including gluttony, sexual promiscuity and crime. He is violent and mean. He drinks too much, manipulates people, slacks at his job and shares his misery, and, essentially, spends his time doing evil.

The evolution from that point on is what makes the story wonderful. He reaches a reckoning that the things he is doing is not making him happy, nor helping him find love, so he begins to use his unlimited time differently.

He begins to better himself. He takes piano lessons, learns to sculpt, improves his performance at work. He reads and learns new things, including poetry and philosophy. He begins to become a better man.

From there, he began to look outward, towards others. He began to serve. He changed tires, saved the mayor from choking, saved a boy from falling, He tried to save an old man – and was emotionally devastated when he failed. He shared his talents, he became generous and tried his best to make people happy. How could he do this? Because he learned to be happy, himself, through serving others.

The very circumstances which tortured him at first, became the very circumstances that made him a better man, spending his time doing good.

It is a meaningful character arc.

How are you doing in your personal Groundhog Day? I must admit, the parallels between Phil and me are a little too real, and a little disappointing. While I have not robbed a Brinks truck or tried to kill myself repeatedly, I have wallowed in the situation. It is true that over than past month+ I have eaten too much, watched too much TV, felt frustrated (if not angry) at the situation and how it is being handled. I have squandered the extra time I have at home with Netflix, puzzles, social media and carbs. Lots and lots of carbs. Yeah, it hasn’t been my finest hour.

(I should note that it is obvious that some of you were off to the races on accomplishing during quarantine. Thankfully, I am not in a race with you, or you with me. We are in a race against ourselves.)

BUT, the groundhog evolution, while slow, is real. Now I find myself getting up and going into work early – just to get more things done in this challenging time. I have fixed things around the house that I had been putting off since forever. I’ve reached out to people, just to let them know someone is thinking of them. Yesterday, I bought a lot more produce at the grocery store, and a lot less Cheetos..

And, I undertook an awesome project. (Which I’ll tell you about tomorrow.)

These last two weeks have been a meaningful character arc, for me – and one that is still underway. Even the smallest progress yields disproportionate happiness. Improving oneself, then serving others, does indeed, brighten lives for all concerned.

No small coincidence that, smack dab in the middle of this challenging situation, we dig in deep to the teachings of King Benjamin. As he taught his people, his hope was that they would be enlightened and seek a “mighty change of heart.” And they did it.

“Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

I think Phil Connors would understand that passage.

That mighty change of heart is a process that takes a lifetime. While Phil had an advantage of limitless lifetimes to be refined, we don’t. The bad news is that we only have this life. The good news is that we have this life.

Elder Spencer Condie taught, “Perhaps of all the evidence of true conversion and a remission of sins, this is the most significant: the disposition to do evil no more, but to do good continually.” (link)

As we gradually move through this evolution to have our hearts changed and then retain that change, it would be wise to remember the teachings of President Ezra Taft Benson:

“…as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment…” (link)

As we look at the current pandemic as a microcosm of our lives, what do we see? Are we using our time to improve, or are we squandering it?

When we step back and look at our lives, what do we see? Are we using our time to improve, and move closer to the Lord, or are we squandering it? Phill Connors had endless time to make his gradual changes. We don’t. Our time is limited, but we do have the time to continue making those small, almost imperceptible changes.

 In his beautiful, simple way, President Hinckley taught, “I want to urge you to stand a little taller, to rise a little higher, to be a little better.” (link)

(Of course, being charged with “being a little better,” runs counter to the broad application of the trendy “I am Enough” mantra. Clearly, I am not “enough,” or I wouldn’t need to keep striving to be better. Nor, would I have need of the Atonement. I am surely, and humbly, not “enough.”)

One of the most beautiful passages from the Lord of the Rings is a quiet conversation between Frodo and Gandalf, which I feel we can apply to our current reality:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkein – Fellowship of the Ring.)

What are we doing with the time given us? Pretty soon, life will resume a sense of normalcy, but we will emerge from it different than when we began.

Old Phil, or New Phil? “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

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  1. You’ve articulated what I’ve hoped for myself–that I would come out the other side of this a stronger and more in tune person, more caring and compassionate. I haven’t wanted to waste time–emotional, physical or mental by mindless activities. I think I’m succeeding, but can always do better.

  2. ……..And yet, through it all, Through the many times I watched this film, That insurance man, Ned Ryerson ? how many of us(yes, US..) wanted that annoying man to just STEP in that puddle himself . Thank you also Brad for Giving of the mask to that groundhog. Nice touch. Thank you as always for giving me another smile today. I’m one of those “Red Zone” people who are in bed and never go out due to my Challenges I accepted to endure to be able to Convert to the Gospel at age 16. In June I will be 68 years. my Testimony is strong no matter what…sometimes I have felt that God has a sense of humor with what, as quoted,”He will never give us more than we can deal with….” I have seen and felt Gods handiwork all through my life even before I ever heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but I didn’t understand until my parents moved us from L.A. California to Granada Hills Ca, and the kids , from next door, walked up the hill to my parents house and told me of her Church. My life from beginning (I was born and dying what they did, was a miracle first that I never should have survived, or the sweet mercies given to me without understanding why? . All the things I grew up with, have been a Blessing. You need patience, all things and answers will be answered in His time. Sometimes , His answers can be a Yes, s No. or a “wait, you will find it worth it. and even when we wanted a “yes”, and wanted it more! I have experienced that when I show a lack of Faith and get mind. I have been asked to write it down, but when you sound like someone stuffed you into the seat of “Disney’s Mr Toads Wild Ride” one ride after another over and over, Once again Brad, you opened a memory i thought I’d lost and now I am the oldest living of the Smith family since my big brother past right before this pastChristmas, in a very different way and my fiance the month before that from neglect in a long-term place in Ca. an my best friend of 35 yrs past a month after they had, my younger son, ill went to a country, but he died he never told us where he was and he past. Still not know why are where……just a bit the Crazy bag of mixed nuts, FAMILY. Someday, when I can afford a tape recorder, I may just tape it before the brain cells do a mutiny, I’m the oldest one . If anything, It will show you where your strength comes from. Some as I had felt at first, I was tired, a failure and ruined my childrens future. But no, I hadn’t. Keep inspiring us. Your a true man and TestimonyWitness of the Power of Christ. please remember that. I hope to be well enough someday to meet you and tell you in person how your Spirit has touched mine and so many others. God Bless you and yours.

  3. I have loved that show all these years, and would watch it more often except my husband just hates it! He sees the same thing happening over and over and thinks it’s stupid; he just doesn’t get it. I love the character development, the change of heart, the stages of ‘grief’ you might say, that we all go through after a traumatic event. He finally learns his lesson and can move on. Like all of us. Thanks for the connection with our reality.

  4. I really love this analogy Brad! I have found while on quarantine half my life it seems like, that I have to find ways to reach out and still be connected with others. If I don’t my life goes in a tailspin and I end up dwelling on myself too much, and for me we both know that’s not good! I am grateful I have been able to do some things which help me while I try and cheer others! And you talk about spring cleaning, my house has never been so cleaned and organized! I even moved the furniture all around and set up a place on my porch where I can go out in the mornings and evenings when it’s not too hot to read scriptures and other good books and talks each day. Without this quarantined I would never taken the time to realize what I can do to be my best self besides talking to myself and staring at the door knob! Look to God and live! Christisthecure! Hear Him ‼️????❤️

  5. I was doing pretty well the first couple of weeks. Then it started getting to me. I saw the future as a vast, featureless prairie stretched out in front of me, and my motivation tanked. After all, I had months ahead of me to shrink my to-do list. But, like you, I’ve come to my senses. Starting over, trying to do even one or two things each day. I may be quarantined (by my kids), but I can call someone else each day to check on them, and I can get back to the dratted to-do list.

  6. Amen! I have been praying and fasting, as directed, for those suffering from COVID-19 and that life will return to “normal,” but I don’t want it to be exactly as it was before. I hope we’ve all become better versions of ourselves; that we, or at least I, am more humble, more Christ-like, more appreciative of other people, etc.

    1. PS- must be a sign of the times…I didn’t even ‘register’ the mask on Bill Murray…I was more focused on the groundhog: “wait, why is the groundhog in the car?” then a few minutes later, “oh, yeah- he’s wearing a mask”

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