I grew up in a tiny town in Western Pennsylvania – Sykesville, PA. We had a single traffic light, a sweet little elementary school, and three major companies that employed much of the town (the school and two of the businesses have closed since my days living there). As much as I hate to admit it, our proximity to Punxsutawney ("Punxsy" – our high school rivals) was pretty much our biggest claim to fame. Every year on February 2nd, just 13 miles down the road, people, often shirtless with only their Coors Light to keep them warm, would flock to see Punxsutawney Phil “predict” the weather while the world watched on TV.
I’m telling you this so that you can understand a bit better my deep affection for the movie “Groundhog Day” and appreciate how tickled I was recently to see Nikki’s daughter’s theater camp present “Groundhog Day: the Musical”. It was such a delightful telling of the story with really fun music, but it also made me realize how familiar it all felt.
First, I almost literally grew up in that place, and in a more figurative way, I live there still. Windsor has just two traffic lights. We are well known for the businesses that used to be here. Our school has been labeled by some as small and insignificant, while in my mind, it is the heart of our town. You don’t have to have read many of my blog posts to know that I love it here. To quote the song, “Day One” from the musical: “It's a little town with a heart as big as any town, as any small town in the USA and there is no town greater [than Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day.]”
Sometimes, the monotony of a small town like Punxsy, Sykesville, or Windsor can feel a bit suffocating. And I realized this weekend, on the three-year anniversary of my diagnosis, how monotonous this disease has been, in spite of the fact that it sometimes feels like a roller coaster. It takes everything out of me on certain days. I take the same five drugs every morning, the same two every night. I get up and feed the animals, then have to sit down because I’m exhausted. Pretty much every day at some point I check my work email and feel the ache of missing teaching. Most days, I clear 600,000 points in Tetris while kicking myself for not being out in my kayak, walking the dog, or vacuuming my very furry floors. Every other Wednesday, I spend the day getting injected with carefully measured poison and follow that up with 14 days of carrying a little green bag around with me, wondering if/when I’m going to get sick or need to run to the bathroom. It’s not February 2nd every day; it’s the same two week cycle over and over again.
While I’ve never come close to kidnapping a groundhog and driving off of a cliff with him in my lap, after three years of this, I have to say that I can understand how Phil Connors reached that point. I wonder what his high score is in Tetris.
Unlike movies and Broadway shows, my story doesn’t end in two hours. There’s no lesson I can learn that will cause me to wake up tomorrow morning cancer-free. (Unless there’s an online course I can enroll in called “how to cure cancer”… if that’s the case, please have that professor get in touch.) And, as an acquaintance annoyingly pointed out to me: at least I’m not dead (not his exact words, but his exact sentiment). Now I don’t recommend saying this to a person with a terminal illness, like, EVER, but he’s not wrong. I have no idea how many more years of this I have ahead of me – I hope it’s a miraculously high number – but I'm here now. So I’m going to keep talking and blogging and planning, hoping to mix it up as much as possible while I do the things I need to do to keep waking up each morning.
"Ok campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cold out there this morning."