A couple of months ago at Daegan’s suggestion, I read The Wisdom of Groundhog Day by Paul Hannam. At first glance, the principle of the book is ridiculous. Why would this movie, a comedy about a man forced to live the same day over and over again have any sort of relevance to anyone’s life.
But the author does a great job of showing how the movie itself can be viewed as a metaphor for life. We can be dissatisfied with our lives, make poor choices that create more dissatisfaction, focus only on ourselves and then be angry that we seem to be stuck in a loop that brings us the same disappointments day by day. Or, like the main character in the movie we can break the cycle, focus on others and make the best use of any given day and change ourselves and our feelings about our lives.
One of the most powerful ideas in the book was that we, like Bill Murray in the book can experiment with our lives. Tweak something in it and then watch for a while and see what happens. We may not be living the same day over and over but we are living similar enough days that we can eventually see what the outcome of such a change would be. In that same section he shared a quote from another book (sorry, I can’t recall the original source) that suggested that we could live our lives as if today is the day we get sent back to do today over again. In other words, to do the things we know would make today a good day the first time. For me that usually means spending less time on the computer in favour of more time interacting with others offline, reading more, and of course excuse-free outdoor exercise.
I have just finished another day of work and a busy evening is ahead of me. I am on the schedule for making dinner, I also have Hindi class that starts at 7:30 PM, and of course as it has been for almost two straight months, I have committed to some form of exercise. This is a streak I have zero intention of breaking. It’s just too long now. It will take sickness or injury to stop this one.
Looking at the clock I see time is tight. If I go for too long of a ride I will have to really focus when I get back. There will be no time for sitting and doing nothing, I’ll have to immediately shower, start prep, make dinner, eat dinner and then jump on the Zoom call for my class. On the other hand, my commitment to exercise stands at “a minimum of 30 minutes.” That means I could run out, do a quick out and back loop and be back in time to sit on the couch and relax.
But looking outside I can see another more sensible suggestion. It’s 22 degrees, the sun is dazzlingly beautiful, there’s 0% chance of rain, and there isn’t even much wind. If there is a better day for cycling, I can’t imagine it. What I should do is go for a longer ride – at least an hour or more.
And so, instead of perfunctorily doing a ride out of obligation, I choose a ride I think will be fun and enjoyable. I head out to the Leslie Spit for the first time in about 4-5 years.
The Leslie Spit is a man-made bit of land at the southern part of Toronto on the east end. During the day it is a landfill, but after 4PM on weekdays and all weekend it becomes “Tommy Thompson Park”. How can a landfill double as a park? It’s easy when the landfill is clean – bricks, concrete and dirt taken from elsewhere in the city. Over many years, the land has been growing here, and along with it comes another surprise: It has become a great wildlife habitat. It’s a popular stop for migratory birds on their seasonal commutes and even in summer it is filled with birds of all kinds. In fact, there are more species of birds found here than in Algonquin Park, a huge national park hours to the north of here, far from any city.
The roads are wide enough to accommodate big dump trucks so when it’s left to cyclists and pedestrians it feels spacious even in the days of physical distancing. As I zoom along at nearly 30 km/hr, the wind in my ears is drowned out by the sound of songbirds of all kinds. Varieties I’ve never seen land on the ground in front of me then flit off to other places.
At one point a large flock of sleek black waterfowl flies over. I think it would be a fantastic photo but by the time I stop I am sure they will be gone and so I keep going. And so does the line of birds – it’s a huge flock of dozens. Laughing at myself for missing the opportunity there’s a short break before another flock flies over that I also miss.
There’s lots of sound from the bushes and occasionally out pops a rabbit to run across the road in front of me. I hear the sound of bigger animals as well but I never see them. Another cyclist posting recently on Strava does see one though – a baby coyote, doubtless one of the ones feeding on the many rabbits here.
Our parks have many of these. I’ve never seen them in person but often hear in the ravine at night when sleeping with the windows open. Another friend recently told of having seen a large “coywolf”, a mix of wolf and coyote nearby.
I eat the snacks I brought with me – a couple of clementines washed down with warm water from the bottle I brought and enjoy the breeze, watching the rabbits playing in the distance. I haven’t a lot of time to spend here given my full evening ahead of me so I turn back.
When I get home it is as I expected: In to the shower I go then out then chopping peppers, onions and garlic for refried bean burritos, roast some broccoli, put it on a plate and then play a couple of games of cards with Sage while I eat. And then it’s time for Hindi class and then brushing my teeth and off to bed.
Instead of feeling rushed and stressful though, it feels full and rich. I feel lucky that I have so many good things to fill my afternoon with – things that are better than the feeling of sitting with no responsibilities. It is true, living today as if it is the second time you get to live it having learned from your mistakes the first time, is an excellent way to go.