Now that Gina and I have returned to civilization and downtown living after almost five years in the isolated wilderness of the Appalachian foothills, we have coined a new phrase. FOMO. It’s an acrostic for the Fear of Missing Out.
To adequately place this in a proper perspective, you must know that our country home called Rivendell and our farm called BeauChamp were located close to the epicenter of a 54-acre piece of land with no homes or neighbors to be seen. We lived at the end of a narrow and winding one-lane graveled country road which was at the end of another narrow and winding one-lane country road which was at the end of yet another narrow and winding one-lane country road. I could go on but you get the picture.
It took Gina a full day to make the trek to the nearest Publix grocery store and Costco Warehouse. She was gracious enough to run the errands and go for provisions so that for weeks (and sometimes months) at a time I would never leave the farm nor see another human being. In many respects, I was an introverted hermit who would write and paint at my hand-built cedar artist cabin that stood alone atop our western ridge. And when not creating I would wander the forests, trails, and streams of our countryside for hours at a time.
When the winter cold and rains set in, we would be relegated to indoor living for weeks and sometimes months at a time. For several of those early years, we did not have Internet or television—or a home. The first year we lived in a well-loved thirty-foot RV and later in my 272-square-ft artist cabin without running water.
For Gina—an extrovert—it was a difficult time. If there is a heaven, she deserves a special place for giving me the time and space to heal emotionally, physically, mentally, and emotionally. She is a true companion. Whatever trauma I had faced in my life, however daunting or devastating the unfolding of events, I always knew that I would make it through, as long as when I woke in the morning I was looking forward to my first look at her peaceful sleeping face close beside me.
After the record-breaking rains and cold in the winter of 2018, I knew it was time to raid my retirement funds and buy her a place somewhere warm, sunny, and in the middle of civilization. I apologize for the lengthy beginning but this essay requires context. Now, to the point.
We know that we are extremely fortunate to have “retired” so young. I, at the ripe ‘ole age of 47 and she just a few years later—able to arise each morning and set our own agenda. But after living at the farm, we are now inundated with a plethora of choices. Should we go to the beach? Good Lord, it’s a beautiful day! Should we walk or bike downtown to the farmer’s market? Should we take Zelda, our golf cart, that Gina has affectionately nicknamed our “toodle bug” to the marina for a lunch of fresh-caught fish on the docks? Should we bike to one of our three pubs or eleven breweries and grab a pint and listen to music?
Should we walk downtown and try a new restaurant? We have dozens and have yet to get to them all. Should we go to the Dali museum? Should we take in a Rays or Blue Jays game? Should we call up our friends for a sunset walk along the beach? I could go on and on.
After almost five years of isolation, it is a shock to the system. So much so, that at times we are paralyzed and unable to make a decision. FOMO. Other days we find ourselves enjoying the beach but wondering if we should have taken in one of the festivals that take place nearly every weekend. FOMO. If Gina has said it once, she has said it a hundred times. FOMO.
It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it—so we remain devoted to the task of defeating FOMO and being present where we are. To be aware and savor our experiences and let others enticements take care of themselves. And we realize it’s not just our problem. It is an affliction that has rendered most Americans incapable of being where they are. They are unaware that they are unaware.
Every time we are sitting or strolling along the beach—Clearwater Beach is consistently rated number one in America—and we see someone hunched over inches from their phone squinting through the sunlight at a tiny 3” by 5” inch piece of glass and oblivious to their idyllic surroundings—we look at each other knowingly and whisper FOMO.
We are grateful to live a short walk away from a beach that rivals any Caribbean island in beauty, a stone’s throw away from a quaint and whimsical downtown that looks like it was plucked from a fairy tale, and where a trip to the grocery store (Whole Foods, no less!) is only seconds away. And we are determined to savor the moments. Every one of them. Cell phones and Facebook be damned! I have removed all notifications, messenger, and most apps from my phone. We pledge to defeat FOMO.
Understanding purpose and the search for meaning dominate much of my thoughts and my life, but when I lose the ability to take pleasure in the mundane moments—in the discovery of a flawless seashell, the aroma of lavender soap in the bath, the exhilarating freedom of the sea breeze in my face on a bike ride—I have certainly put myself in a place of unnecessary desire.
One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against urgency and seduction and all manner of glamorous enticements. In retrospect, our little beach cottage is helping us to be grateful for who we are, where we are, when we are. To be aware that we are aware and to know that whatever we are doing is EXACTLY what we should be doing.