I was looking out my front door early this Sunday morning, trying to “look at nature” the way St. Jean Kirkpatrick suggests I do.  It’s a big part of St. Jean’s approach, this “looking at nature” aspect of meditation, and harder to do at the end of a suburban  cul-de-sac than in a quaint village in Quakertown, PA.  (I never know whether to be grateful or resentful that it was American Transcendentalism that helped get her sober.)  The snow is three-quarters gone, sticking icily to the grass and roads.  There’s a recurring patch of ice in the exact middle of the first porch step that forms in partial homage to the leak in the unfixed gutter above.  The sky is half-gray, a tongue of sad, orange sun beginning to crest at the street-end.

Pierre Fiore--Winter Thaw

What was nature telling me?  Something about the in-between-ness of things?  Something cruel about spring being far behind–no matter what Shelley had to say on the matter.

The forecast calls for rain.  That will get rid of the snow, I thought.  But then it’s bound to snow again, maybe late next week, in fact.  And it’s two weeks ’til Ground Hog Day, which is psychologically a turning point for everyone living in a temperate zone.  Although I can’t help feeling that for people more northerly it’s just some kind of sick joke.

Perhaps nature was obligingly mirroring my life.  It feels like that half this/half that landscape right now:  between things.   I am waiting for different weather.  Some days I am even waiting to feel “more sober,” like people I meet who have a year or more behind them.  The permanence and solidity of a nice, fat, round ONE seems far away, and I am envious of those who have it.  I am waiting to hear back from employers, waiting for a job that will change my day-to-day circumstances, not to mention my financial mess.  Throwing out those CVs and cover letters feels as satisfying as sprinkling the walk with salt, knowing I’ll have to do it again in a few days.  The not-winter, not-spring outside matches this restless dissatisfaction, I thought, unhappily turning from the open door.

Nature isn’t really telling me anything, of course.  It’s just out there, being itself, being January.  It would take an ego at least as big as Emerson’s to think so.  The snow just is.  It just is today.  For all I know, it will be today again tomorrow.  If not, there will be another January, another false thaw, another in-between.

I am at least as unteachable this morning as Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.  It takes Murray’s character hundreds, maybe thousands of attempts at a single day to appreciate it.  His is the supernaturally actualized experience of “no matter where you go, there you are,”  and its metaphor is no more complex that what one might find in an eighth grade reading book.   Reliving the same day is enough to make one suicidal, which is the putative “crisis” of the film.   How much practice will it take me to take today on its own terms? Never symbolically checking the Weather Channel, never looking at the calendar wistfully?

It’s hard to find beauty in a temporary winter thaw, although I suspect the hungry birds have no trouble experiencing whatever equivalent to happiness birds enjoy at the sight of the receding snow.  And what if what I am waiting for never comes anyway?  Do I have the courage to accept the possibility of a life of todays?  It is not merely a question of a Kirkpatrick-y re-analysis of today’s possibilities, wonders, and beauties.  Believing in the comedic arc of the film would be convenient, but it is not brave.   Bravery can demand stoic responsibility for the present–Bill Murray running every day to catch the same little boy who falls from the same tree at the same time, not fruitless attempts to catch the girl of his dreams instead.  In the Serenity Prayer, acceptance is the yin to change‘s yang:  some days do not offer the potential of both.   Or, if we follow the wisdom of the film, change will only come with acceptance of the unchangingness of things.

  1. I love this movie groundhog day

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