The movie “Groundhog Day” tells the story of Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a man doomed to relive Feb. 2 over and over again. At one point, Phil says to two drinking buddies: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?”
“That about sums it up for me,” one of the men replies.
That bleak view is extreme, of course, but it’s possible to fall into a daily regimen that dulls our thinking and our sensibilities. Like many readers, I suspect, I generally enjoy routine, following a roadway of customs and habits that, for better or worse, allow me to do a great deal of work and keep me in a comfort zone.
But sometimes that road can become a rut.
Recently, my good friend John invited me to go with him in a rental car to the NCAA Division III Final Four championship in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his beloved Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets were the first-place seed. It’s a nine-hour drive from Virginia, and I have no interest in watching sports unless they involve my grandchildren, so I nearly turned him down.
Then I thought, “Come on, old man, you need an adventure.”
As I write these words, I’m sitting in the tiny lobby of a motel in Fort Wayne. We arrived last night, and in less than 24 hours, I’ve ridden for the first time in a car with a Utah license plate, I’ve witnessed a rising full moon above the sea of fields in Ohio, and I’ve made a new acquaintance, a Yellow Jackets fan John had invited along. This morning, I rose before dawn, slipped down to write in the lobby, briefly watched a young woman with hair the color of a raven’s wing wiping down her pickup with paper towels, listened to two men conversing in Russian, and just now greeted one of the proprietors of this rather rugged establishment, who appeared in the lobby in her pajamas.
There, I’ve done it. I’ve hung my routine in the closet and slipped on some new threads, and I feel like a different man.
Don’t get me wrong. As I said, I believe in the benefits of routine. Going to the gym on certain days keeps us fit. The 9-to-5 we spend at work are the rails to that horse race that bring satisfaction and accomplishment. All our daily habits—the morning coffee, walking the dog, lunch in a cafe, a book, and a glass of wine in the evening—provide comfort and ease by means of their familiarity.
Naturally, the unexpected can interrupt our ordered ways. Our 3-year-old develops a terrible cough. A toothache sends us from work to the dentist. A friend calls, tells us she has accepted her boyfriend’s proposal, and asks us to be one of her bridesmaids. These joys and inconveniences are the little sideshows of routine.
But adventures taken on a larger scale can rejuvenate us, shaking us and rousing our dormant senses. Some people make adventures of their vacations. They leave behind their daily routine by going on bird-watching expeditions in Central America, climbing through the ruins of Ancient Rome’s port city Ostia, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. Others parachute from airplanes, learn karate, or drive a thousand miles to surprise Grandma on her birthday.
And some of us become so mired in routine that a weekend trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana, becomes the odyssey that yanks us out of the slumber into which we’ve fallen.
For most of us, routine and habit are as necessary for sanity and success as vegetables and vitamins are for physical health, but every now and again we should treat ourselves to the dessert bar of novelty and adventure.