“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way” ~ Psalm 37:7
On May 20, 1976, an amusement park located just 30 minutes from home opened to much community fanfare. Marriott’s Great America had roller coasters and other thrill rides. The park’s advertisement boasted “lavish musical shows, parades, marching bands, street performers, and even a circus.” It was the most exciting thing to happen in Santa Clara County during my childhood.
Everybody had gone to Great America that summer 45 years ago. My teammates at little league practice were stunned when I told them that I hadn’t been there yet. I’ll never forget the way I felt when the coach, acting very much like a 12 year-old instead of a wise leader, laughed and rhetorically asked, “you’ve never been to Great America?” I suffered from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that day, decades before venture capitalist Patrick McGinnis came up with the term.
I ultimately got the chance to experience the excitement of Great America with a neighborhood friend. I think it was the next summer. Growing up, my family had everything we needed, but extras depended on household cash on hand. I’m sure my dad finally let me go when he had enough money for me to pay for what I needed to enjoy the experience. Needless to say, the word need was defined by my dad. There would be no souvenirs for me.
My mom used to say that things happen cuando Dios quiere (in God’s time). Her belief was the rule when I was a kid because there was no other choice. Following a triumphant return to college, I had my own beliefs and sought to manage my own timetable vowing to never miss anything that could make me happy. Ambition and anxious energy controlled my life. I foolishly figured that there would be no FOMO for me if I just didn’t miss anything.
My fear of being excluded from personal or professional opportunities was real. I made a commitment to be at every family gathering, business meeting, social get-together, and community event. It would not be unusual to work late into the night on the east coast and take an early flight home to attend Sandra and the girls’ school activities. That strategy didn’t work out very well for my health in the long run. Of course, that’s another story.
Surviving a massive heart attack, 10 years of heart failure, 17 months connected to an artificial heart pump, and a heart transplant have all but eliminated FOMO from my psyche. Faith, selfless family love, reading the works of ancient wisemen, and psychotherapy have put life’s “wanna do’s” in perspective. My understanding of “wants” vs. “needs” is stronger than ever (see: https://esereport.com/2021/07/15/desire-isnt-our-friend-what-is-life-all-about/).
Unfortunately, for people who have compromised immune systems, the Pandemic of 2020 isn’t close to being over. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, nearly 15 million Americans are “unlikely to mount strong immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines.” That includes patients with organ transplants and chronic medical conditions or autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Doctors at Johns Hopkins confirmed that the vaccine “isn’t sufficient to enable [people vulnerable to infections] to dispense with masks, physical distancing and other safety measures.” My immune system has been further weakened by intensive IV treatments to fight off heart rejection (see: https://esereport.com/2021/07/05/finding-meaning-what-is-life-all-about/). That means that Sandra and I still have to shelter-in-place and be extra careful about social interaction.
Sandra is fortunate to continue working from home, but she misses the camaraderie of the office and the professional interaction that comes with her work. I recently presented a virtual workshop on networking and I’m currently preparing for virtual civic engagement seminars. Speaking with groups online isn’t the same as being in a room. It’s really hard to exchange ideas with people when I don’t get feedback or can’t see facial expressions and body language.
This reality is a perfect breeding ground for FOMO. Since the lifting of restrictions, we’ve missed many experiences that would be otherwise normal for us to participate in. This spring, we stood outside of a church while the rest of the family mourned the passing of a beloved uncle inside. We’ve missed college graduations for my godson and our niece, a memorial service for a cousin, our oldest compadres’ anniversary dinner, and numerous family gatherings.
At times, it feels as though we are on a deserted island watching family and friends enjoy vacations, gatherings, ball games, parties, and the trappings of a “normal” life. Sandra is a beacon of strength and an apostle of God’s love as she remains laser-focused on protecting me from a potentially fatal infection. It pains us to let loved ones know that we won’t gather unless protective 2020 CDC guidelines are in place, including the recommended period of quarantine.
With more warm days ahead and the holidays right around the corner, many more of these celebrations are still to come if COVID doesn’t mount a nasty comeback. Does all of this cause us sorrow and regret? Of course it does. But we have faith in what St. Paul the Apostle teaches in his letter to the Romans where he tells us “to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
It’s been a long time since the FOMO demons have entered my consciousness. More than a year into the COVID pandemic hasn’t changed that, especially since everyone was in the same boat throughout 2020. There was nothing going on to miss. For most people, the pandemic is over now. Masks have been tossed aside, large public events are back, and families and friends are playing catch-up by getting together like there’s no tomorrow.
Are we envious of others who get to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices from last year’s isolation? It’s hard not to be. Sandra has always turned to her strong faith in tough times. My long journey with heart disease and the hardships that we’ve weathered have taught me to trust in God. We’re comforted by the wisdom of Psalm 37:7 and try to genuinely cheer for family and friends who can celebrate freedom from the pandemic. Like my mom used to say, our chance to join them will come in God’s time.
For months, the transplant team has suggested that we take a getaway from the seclusion of our house and the drudgery of regular outings to the doctor’s office and lab. We took a drive to Carmel to spend a day at the beach where we gleefully ripped off our masks to walk along a secluded section of the seashore right below the scenic and historic Pebble Beach Golf Links.
At the end of the beach, I listened to the ocean water lap against the rocky shoreline where we sat and reflected on how blessed we were to be there. To be sure, it wasn’t the same as drinking Jack and Cokes at a resort with friends or dancing in our compadres patio while sounds of familiar and cheerful voices echoed in the background.
Missing from the moment was FOMO itself. Watching people in the distance prancing in the water gave me hope that life will march on as long as I take care of myself and Sandra is by my side. As COVID and sure to follow restrictions try to creep their way back into our lives, people will no doubt be unhappy and downhearted. We have to keep in mind that as a community we survived the 2020 surge. If need be, we can do it again
As Sandra and I made our way back to the car, we spotted a couple of young women sitting on the sand enjoying the sight and sound of waves crashing onto the beach. We asked them to take a photo of us to commemorate our joyful day. Before reached the busy parking lot, we slung on face masks and returned to the real world of sacrifice and discipline. There was nothing to fear. The serenity of Carmel assured me that there is hope in the time of COVID.