Recently, a Facebook meme has been going around that posits we should ask Bill Murray how his character, Phil, got out of the loop he was stuck in that was the premise of the movie “Groundhog Day” — and then do what he did to break free from the ongoing loop of madness engulfing the country right now.
Someone else commented that he broke the cycle by learning to care about other people instead of himself and that, yes, that’s exactly what we need to do.
Makes sense. Following COVID-19 guidelines such as wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home when you can are acts of kindness toward the people you encounter in your day-to-day life. They show you have compassion and connection and can see beyond your own wants, needs and comfort zone.
It’s the same, albeit on a more complex level, with taking a stand for racial equality, for LGBTQ rights, for women’s issues, for animal welfare, for child protection, for senior care, for law enforcement, for first responders and frontline workers, even for the environment.
It’s about communication and being open to learning and understanding and simply caring about something beyond yourself. Social issues are human issues, and every single one of us has a stake in each and every one of them.
This all segues nicely into the fact that animal shelters around the county have seen a sharp uptick in the numbers of lost and abandoned animals. Fourth of July is the day of the year when more pets are reported lost because they get freaked by fireworks and run off. Many wind up at local shelters. Plus, it’s kitten season and many shelters are overrun with litters as feral and community cats give birth under porches and behind sheds, etc.
If you’re looking for a way to extend a kindness and reach beyond yourself, consider adopting a pet from a local shelter — especially one that doesn’t have the resources to keep and care for pets indefinitely. Meaning, adopt from death row if you can.
The cool thing about adopting a pet (and saving a life) is that it’s not a totally selfless act, although it sure feels like one. Bringing a rescued pet into your life is almost as good for your health and well-being as it is for the pet’s health and well-being. And it’s a perfect panacea for pandemic ennui and a comforting presence when the world outside your door is stressful and worrisome.
Of course, taking on a pet is a huge responsibility. This time of year, when temperatures are flirting with the triple-digit mark, it’s important to remember not to leave your pet (or your child, of course) in your vehicle, no matter how short a time you plan to be away from it.
If you can’t take your animals into someplace you’re going, leave them at home. Even the shortest amount of time in a closed car with no cool air or ventilation can be fatal to pets and people.
These days, we’re all dealing with the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual ramifications of a pandemic, of protest and panic, of soul-searching, of enlightenment, of learning and, we hope, of compassion and coming together. No matter how you do it, try each day to see beyond yourself, to reach out and make a difference, big or small, as often as you can.
Adopt a pet, if you can. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Check on your neighbor. Write a letter. Sign a petition. Volunteer your time, your talent, your treasure to make a difference. And to make a dent in the malaise that threatens to cover us all like a wet blanket. Together we can crawl out from under — and it starts with each of us. Just ask yourself, “What would Phil do?”
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner