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ll the time in the world

Today (Wednesday, February 2, 2011), the Groundhog saw his shadow … six more weeks of winter.

Punxsutawney Phil, America’s favorite groundhog

Or as we call it in California: the annual budget impasse.

Seriously, one of my favorite movies is “Groundhog Day.”

“Groundhog Day” as you know is an apparent comedy starring Bill Murray as an arrogant, self-centered weatherman exiled to Punxsutawney, Pa. for their annual rodent fest. The exile becomes permanent as a habit when Murray’s bore (named Phil, like the groundhog) finds himself reliving the day over and over.

With humor the movie asks a deep question: What would you do if you had all the time in the world?

Phil puts it differently: “What if every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered?” This he initially answers with a litany of deadly sins.

As his approach — “I don’t worry about anything anymore. I don’t even have to floss.” — wears weary and thin, Phil grows depressed. Asked for the forecast he replies, “It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

He tries suicide knowing it won’t stick: “I’ve been killed so many times I don’t even exist.” About God he muses, “Maybe he’s not omnipotent. Maybe he’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

He comes to see many things matter. He learns the piano, helps stranded elderly women, saves the mayor from choking, is nice to people, catches a boy falling from a tree, and spends this evening with a vagrant, on what turns out to be that man’s last night on earth. He learns how to pay attention.

He also has fun: a bachelor auction and snowball battles are among the diversions, and he courts his news producer, Andie MacDowell. He learns about her, pays more attention, and … you probably know it goes well. In the end he has learned what to do with all the time in the world.

As I mulled this, the objection came to mind: yeah, but he lived the same day over and over. He didn’t get sick or have to earn a living. In fact, he didn’t have to live, at all.

But he did. He just lived it slow, so he could … pay attention. Phil saw his 78 RPM life spin at 33 … and then slow down even more. It was a test and a gift, a challenge and a chance. He saw what we need to see — each day is so crucial. It’s something we often see only after we live thousands of them.

These “fast-forwards” show what’s possible in the future if we start now.
It probably didn’t take 5,000 days to woo Andie McDowell, but even if it did that’s less than 14 years. So how long do you plan to be married? It’s time enough to learn the piano.

Murray’s meteorologist also comes to recognize that the value of the present moment is often to be found in interaction with, and focus on, other people. He begins to care. As C.S. Lewis has written:

C. S. Lewis

“It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour … It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

Lewis adds, “All day long we are helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Phil found that having all the time in the world meant nothing if he lived for himself. Learning to play the piano means loving something beside you. Paying attention means loving someone beside me.

This can only happen day by day because we live only in this present moment. At the same time, we must be mindful of the effects of many years of doing the same thing.

Mother Teresa bathed tens of thousands of beggars — one at a time.

This concept is expressed across cultures and years, through aphorism, parable — and miracle. As Christ turned five loaves and two fishes into food for a multitude, he sped up a natural process for which he has full authority anyway.

All the days it takes to turn bread and fish into more bread and fish, sped up in that moment … miracle. A few loaves and fish became a banquet. Water became wine, as it can if we knew how. Lazarus came forth, as one day we all will.

This holds in everything from writing to raising children, teaching to learning — and paying attention.

What would we do if we had all the time in the world?

Because the truth is, we do.


Paul Hughes is a writer in Southern California. He has written for Christianity Today, the Orange County Business Journal, Entrepreneur, and others. He blogs and is a staff apologist for www.Apologetics.com, with whom he edited the book “Think and Live.” He can be contacted by e-mail at: beautygoodnesstruth@gmail.com



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