HETRICK: Groundhog Day experience helps put life in perspective

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” actor Bill Murray plays the part of Phil Connors, a TV weatherman on assignment in Punxsutawney, Pa., who finds himself trapped in a time loop.

Over and over, Feb. 2 repeats itself, forcing Connors to reconsider where he’s been in life and what matters most.

It was fitting, then, that on Groundhog Day 2013, I found myself on assignment in Connecticut, a place where I started over nearly 30 years ago; a place where, a la Paul McCartney, I did my best work with the old band; a place I’d likely still be if life had been kinder and gentler.

But alas, life doesn’t work that way.

As I drove Saturday night from Bradley International Airport to my hotel in the Farmington Valley, it began to snow—nothing heavy, just enough to cover the ground and line the branches of trees.

When I awoke Sunday morning, I parted the drapes and looked out on a picture-perfect New England postcard.

With no obligations ’til noon, I got dressed, threw on my overcoat and a baseball cap, and hopped in my rental car for a nostalgia trip.

Past the first house I ever owned—a yellow, three-bedroom ranch with a mountain view out the family-room window.

Past a home my parents built, sitting high on a meadow, a stone wall separating their land from a country lane.

Past the home where my sister ran away, starting a downward spiral toward homelessness, poverty and worse.

Past the drive where we lit luminaries one Christmas Eve, all the while praying that my brother the soldier would not be shipped to Iraq.

Past the office building where I plied my trade with some of the best friends I’ve ever known.

Past the hospital where my twin sons were born nearly 25 years ago.

Past the newly constructed house where their mom and I brought them home, where we wept over our son Austin’s cancer six months later, where our marriage ended soon thereafter.

Past the apartment where my new life and a remarkable love story began.

For lunch on Sunday, my best friend of long ago and his new wife took me to a French café in West Hartford center.

For dinner Sunday night, my boss of seven years took me to dinner at an Italian place in Avon.

Have you ever had friends you’ve not seen for five or seven or 10 years, yet you sit down to break bread and the conversation picks up like there’s never been a pause?

These are those kinds of friends. It’s difficult to find them. It’s hard to lose them.

One evening, decades ago, my second wife Pam and I drove out to the grounds at CIGNA Corp. for a concert by the singer Neil Sedaka. His big hit had been “Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do.” We’d both been there and done that.

But that night, we also heard a song called “The Hungry Years.” Among the foreboding lyrics, sung to a couple whose love would end in Pam’s death by cancer:

We spun so fast we couldn’t tell

The gold ring from the carousel.

How could we know the ride would turn out bad?

Everything we wanted was everything we had.

Driving down memory lane through Bloomfield and Windsor, I recalled Sedaka missing “the hungry years—the once upon a time, the lovely long ago, we didn’t have a dime, those days of me and you we lost along the way.”

And yet … and yet I’m a Star Trek buff.

So I know that even if you could go back in time. Even if you could score a do-over. Even if you could make little tweaks here and there to change an outcome or two (or maybe even two cases of cancer), altering any one thing in the past would mess up all kinds of things in the future.

So as much as I might contemplate going back, as much as I’d like to know “what if we’d stayed,” as much as I might imagine what could have been, I’ve lived too much, and loved too much, and learned too much to rank regret over remembrance.

Unlike Bill Murray, you see, my clock moved off Groundhog Day and onto Valentine’s Day six years ago this week.

That’s when I married Cheri.

When time started over.

When the sun rose again.

When life began anew.

When picture-perfect snow covered the ground and lined the branches of trees.

So, dear lovers (actual and would be), should you require one day to repeat itself to remind you where you’ve been in life and what matters most, please know that Valentine’s Day overshadows Groundhog Day any day.•


Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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