It sometimes seems as though the movie “Groundhog Day” was a documentary rather than a comedy. There are times when life keeps shoving you back to the same place and forcing you to keep making decisions until you finally get them right.
In “Groundhog Day,” writer Danny Rubin used ideas from his study of Hinduism to show a man having to live his life — or at least one day of it — over and over until he made his life what it needed to be and he learned how to be the man he needed to be.
I sometimes feel as though something similar has been happening to me for years.
Sometimes I find myself driving aimlessly to some place I haven’t been lately for no apparent reason, but I usually end up figuring out that I’m there because of a connection I’m making to a feeling I was unconsciously trying to reconnect with. That happened Sunday afternoon.
I felt really antsy and felt the need to get out. I was restless and didn’t know why. So I went out, thinking I’d just find a place to eat. I ended up getting onto I-459, not even knowing where I was going. About 10 or 12 miles later, I got off at U.S. 280, thinking that I was just turning around to head home after a useless drive.
But I kept driving, almost as though something was pulling me. After I was about six or eight miles east on U.S.280, I suddenly realized where I was going. I was heading for the town of Mount Laurel.
I fell in love with Mount Laurel years ago. It’s a small planned town just south of Birmingham. It feels like an old-fashioned town out of a movie. (That’s a random residential street that I took a picture of Sunday at the top. At the bottom, you’ll find a street from the town’s small business district at dusk Sunday. The smaller picture is the fire station.) The trees were left in place and the houses are close to one another. It’s an upscale development that feels friendly, safe and welcoming. It feels like real community, not one of the “cookie cutter suburbs.” It’s a place that I’d like to live.
And now I have to to tell you the story within the story.
About five years ago, I was ready to turn my life in a new direction. I’d made the decision to get completely out of political consulting and I was making plans to go in another direction. I had made one successful short film and wanted to pursue making movies. I had found a woman who I was deeply in love with and was planning to marry her. We talked at length about the things we wanted — things such as children, career success and a home in Mount Laurel when we could afford it.
But I got scared and ran away from it all.
The details are complicated and there are parts that I don’t feel comfortable talking about publicly, because they involve someone else’s life, feelings and mistakes. But I can talk about my own mistakes and fears, at least the ones that strictly involved me.
I started looking at the life we planned together and thinking about all that I needed to do to make it happen. It was ambitious and required me to apply myself in a very serious way. It required me to take chances and make them pay off. It required me to quit making excuses for myself and be the person I’ve always known I needed to be.
There were other issues, but they’re not relevant here. The key fact is that I was afraid. I had a fiancé who loved me and believed in me. She thought I could do great things and make her proud. And I was terrified of those expectations — even though I desperately needed her expectations to push me to be what I needed to be. It was a double-edged sword.
I backed out of marrying her. I told myself I didn’t care about the career and material success we had talked about. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal to live in Mount Laurel or someplace similar and raise a happy family. I gave up on this woman. I gave up on having a family. I gave up on success and self-respect and stability. I was so afraid of failure — of disappointing myself and my fiancé and anybody who might believe in me — that I told myself I didn’t want those things anymore.
And I ran away from everything and retreated into a mediocre life.
But it wasn’t that I didn’t still want her when I rejected her. It wasn’t that I didn’t still love her. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to live in Mount Laurel. It wasn’t that I didn’t still want all of those things that I had said I wanted. It was simply that I was afraid that I couldn’t do those things. I was afraid that I might fail.
And as I returned to Mount Laurel Sunday afternoon, I realized that I still want it. All of it. The artistic success and the rewards that come with it. The happy wife and family in an idyllic community.
Everybody has a dream. Some of us have several of them. This was one of mine — living here and growing spiritually, intellectually and emotionally with a family I love. Becoming the person I was born to be.
I realized Sunday that I still need it, even though I had convinced myself that I didn’t even want it anymore. And that scared me.
I can’t say for sure why this happened Sunday. I’ve been making a series of small steps recently to put myself back onto a better path. I haven’t had a complete plan. There are huge gaps and my motivation is shaky at this point. I’ve just had the feeling that if I’d start doing some little things right, some bigger things would start working themselves out.
I’ve mostly wasted the last five years. The woman is long gone and out of my life. In the meantime, I’ve just been treading water, waiting for … something.
I don’t know precisely what I’m going to do about it. I’m honestly not sure that I even know how to put myself back onto a path that will get me those things. It might not even specifically be Mount Laurel when I get there. But this place represents the material side of what my fears drove me away from pursuing.
I’m trusting that if I start taking the steps I need to take, the right people and opportunities will be there for me, but I can’t be scared of them. I have to be willing to take the chances and trust that I can be the kind of success I always planned to be.
I remember the weekend five years ago when I made the decision to back out of marrying the woman I loved. I remember all of the things I thought and felt. I was miserable. And I chose poorly.
I feel as though I’m back to that decision weekend. Life said, “You didn’t get it right. So you’re back here again. Choose wisely this time.”
I’m blind about what that’s going to entail. I’m going to have to step off a cliff and expect a net to appear. That’s scary.
But I’m not going to turn away from the opportunity that life presents me this time. I’m going to listen to my intuition. I’m going to face my fears. I’m finally going to be the person I was born to be.