Feb 5, 2021 Message to Members
“It’s still once a year… isn’t it?”
For more than 25 years, the first week of February in Canada cues an annual national event that is much more important than forecasting the duration of our winter.
In February, people in Canada are invited to participate in events that honour the legacy of Black Canadians in our communities. Between now and March, we who are charged with shaping tomorrow’s Canadians have daily opportunities to animate the 2021 theme for Black History Month, “The Future Is Now”. It brings to mind an interesting loop – tomorrow is today, today is tomorrow, over and over.
For me, this paradox and the calendar’s flip to February surface an obvious work of Bill Murray. In 1993, the film Groundhog Day screened in our theatres and a new cliché found traction. Murray plays Phil Conners, a TV weatherman who spends February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is there to participate in the annual performance of the groundhog and its shadow. Phil is cynical, dismissive, and arrogant, and the universe decides he needs to learn a lesson. To that end, Phil is condemned to start each day at 6:00 a.m. with Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe playing on his radio alarm. Each day is the same day… the very same. Phil is stuck in a perpetual time loop; he meets the same people and does the same things, again and again.
As the story unfolds, we watch Phil cope with his situation, moving through something akin to the stages of grief and finally accepting his circumstances. However, before he reaches this point, we watch him in his daily routines as he describes his reality as ‘stuck in one place’ with every day exactly the same.
This depiction of being stuck in routine, going through the same motions each day, and feeling little impact or purpose has struck a chord with audiences because Phil’s life of ‘rinse and repeat’ feels very familiar to many. The second day of the second month has assumed a second meaning: “a situation in which events are or appear to be continually repeated” (in the The Free Dictionary by Farlex, at least). Through cliché, tedious repetition means serving time in Groundhog Day.
The film is funny, but more worthy of reflection is the lesson Phil finally learns, captured in the words of his love interest: "Sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes.” She tells Phil that life on rinse and repeat may not be a curse. “Just depends on how you look at it." And what you do with it.
With Phil’s daily ‘do-over’, not only does he win love and learn to play piano, he gets another chance to navigate and engage with the world, applying what he learned the last time around with hope for a different outcome. And all the while – in the background – the performance of the groundhog and its shadow takes place every day, becoming a feature of all time, not just once a year.
It would be fair to assume I am contemplating the circular experience of our pandemic lives, but that focus is really a sidebar. It was a comment I read on social media this week that has provoked my odd juxtaposition of thoughts.
On the eve of Black History Month, I was struck by a post that appealed for a departure from performance toward action. After 25 years, does the history and experience of BIPOC Canadians find voice every day? Do we move into March having learned from yesterday and looking for a do-over – a way to change what has been – any day, or every day? In 2021, are we poised to move beyond performance?
I like a little background noise when I work, and I log quite a few hours a day with news radio in my ear. In this first week of February in Canada, I have heard extensive media attention for Bill Murray, and for rodents from across North America. I know their names. There is Wiarton Willie in Ontario and Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia. If inclined, you can Google the name of BC’s contribution to this annual performance. Evident by its absence is a similar media spotlight on “The Future Is Now”. Where are the names Lincoln M. Alexander or Dr. Jean Augustine? What of Chloe Cooley? Learning their names was easier than a Google search. Perhaps I have to tune in to a different station.
I appreciate a set of twelve thematically linked photographs on my wall, and days and months dedicated to observance, but I don’t want the turn of a calendar page to dictate my actions. I can move into each day with the confidence that it offers the opportunity for a do-over, and the opportunity to make changes that will redraw our future. And the calendar has nothing to say about it.