A Life Well-lived

February 2 is Groundhog Day, a North American tradition based on the emergence of the eponymous rodent from its burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. If it sees its shadow due to the weather and retreats, then winter, so the superstition goes, will last for another six weeks. If not, then spring will arrive early. I suspect few parents will not have seen the brilliant 1993 film of the same name starring Bill Murray as the TV weatherman Phil Connors, sent to cover the Groundhog Day festivities only to become caught in a time loop forcing him to relive the same day again and again. The phrase has now entered the modern lexicon and certainly describes the experience of the past few weeks perfectly.

Groundhog Day is a funny, poignant and wonderfully produced film which, inter alia, explores fundamental ideas around what it means to live a good life. Without giving too much of the plot away, it is only when Connors stops taking advantage of the time loop to pursue his own interests and indulge his own desires, and instead uses the opportunity to do good and selflessly help others, that he is freed from the monotony and returns to normality as a fundamentally transformed person.

Last week, on Tuesday 2 February – Groundhog Day – Captain Sir Tom Moore sadly died, a man whose exploits and life achievements were barely known beyond his immediate family this time last year, but who came to personify hope, optimism, and the indomitable human spirit in the face of the current challenges being faced by the world; an unlikely but perfect national hero for the times who wanted to do good and selflessly help others.

Captain Moore served in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in various locations throughout the Second World War, before returning to England to work as an instructor at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School in Bovington, Dorset. Having suffered a broken hip and a punctured lung after a serious fall in 2018, he set out to raise £1000 last April to honour the NHS staff who had looked after him so well. The aim was to walk 100 laps of his back garden before he celebrated his 100th birthday, no small feat for someone who was suffering from and undergoing treatment for prostate and skin cancer, and who could only walk with the aid of a wheeled frame for support.

And who does not know the rest of the story? The final total from his fundraising efforts, including gift aid, came in at a remarkable £38.9 million; he broke two world records along the way, including the oldest person to have a number 1 single in this country; and he was both knighted and awarded the title of Honorary Colonel. Captain Sir Tom Moore won the hearts and minds of a nation when the nation needed him most, and it is both a source of great sadness and a grim irony that he eventually caught the disease and passed away with it in his body.

History will, I am sure, ensure that Captain Tom’s legacy as a national inspiration and a beacon of hope during a time of crisis will live on for years to come. A campaign has already begun for his contributions to be marked by a national monument, with many pointing to the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as a perfect location for a permanent statue. And, as the writer and broadcaster, Victoria Coren Mitchell, tweeted, “He made it count, didn’t he, old Captain Tom? For all those worrying about how much time we’ll have lost when this ghastly crisis finally ends, what an inspiring reminder that you might be 99 years old and still have some of your greatest adventures ahead of you.”

So, as we all look ahead, to half term and beyond, to better times which are surely around the corner, let us continue to be inspired by the example of Captain Tom and let us never forget, just as Phil Connors learned in Groundhog Day, that a life of service and doing good for others, is a life well-lived.

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