I may be late to the FOMO narrative – you know, Fear Of Missing Out. In truth, it’s taken me years to sort out what this means. There are things one would expect: attending a favorite rock concert, tasting the perfect pulled pork sandwich, climbing that peak your friends post images of on Instagram. Maybe you pine for snorkeling in tropical waters, swimming with dolphins, or rising up in a hot air balloon. Maybe you just want to be invited to the party.
These are luxury worries, the problem of privilege. First World Problems. I do not deny this.
And yet, there’s a deeper need at work in my psyche, a hunger that will likely never be satiated. I fear missing out on living in an evolved, socially equitable, compassionate, and creative community where there is no hunger or violence – where all are accepted, self-differentiated, and shame is not in the dictionary.
I’m often convinced that it’s happening right now, and if I just do enough research, I’ll find this hidden gem and live happily ever after, most likely in Finland. In essence, I want community without working for community.
In this just-out-of-reach-place, struggle still exists. Depression and cancer may crop up, but stellar medical care and social services are available to address these needs. If someone is hurting, all that is necessary is to say, I need help. Empathy is in their bones. Or, if you prefer to live as a hermit, that’s also copacetic.
My guess is that if this place exists, the people there are doing a fine job of keeping it secret. Wouldn’t you?
I’m searching for the Kingdom of Heaven and disappointed when I don’t find it here on Earth.
Perhaps I’m a victim of the American Dream, inoculated with the pursuit of happiness. The founding fathers dropped me on a track and told me to trot until I’ve found what I’m looking for. The more I circle, the more I circle. This pursuit sometimes feels like an affliction, and sometimes I’m a moth to the flame. There are few natural highs as joyous as barreling down an empty highway cutting through a mountain desert. My red Prius is a chariot. I peel my domestic life in search for the unburdened self.
And then a wise friend says, “But we need you here in Arkansas.”
“Arkansas breaks my heart.”
“And that is why you’re needed.”
It’s not likely Arkansas will ever meet my checklist. The death penalty will not cease to exist anytime soon. Or, maybe it will. Though, if this miracle occurs, it would not be the panacea for impoverished imaginations. Iris Murdoch writes that love shows like a slip. In Arkansas, poverty is our skin. I like pretending I’m not affected, that poverty is a mole on my back I can only see with a mirror. But, it’s there, covering all of us. The local pharmacy refuses to sell Sudafed without a prescription. Chicken-on-a-stick from a gas station may be the only protein a child eats, sex-trafficking crossed our county line, and fear-driven legislators try to seize as much power as possible. Sure, there is hope and beauty and grace. I marched to the capitol with my family on January 21st, and love ruled the day. My point is this: if I do not see the poverty tangled up in my quest for beauty and adventure, I’ll burn through a hundred hybrids and still feel restless.
It has been two years since our return to Arkansas. There are days when I wish my parents had chosen Vermont to raise a family. I cannot escape my roots. A magnolia tree, raucous thunderstorms, and the scent of dying oak leaves are hardwired into my hierarchy of needs. Pinnacle and Petit Jean Mountain are my bedrock along with an Anglican identity. People are part of the land, and the land got a hold of me. Inside this body is a patchwork of invisible stories: the slavery that ended long before I was born, the sharecrop farmers who never earned enough, the back-to-the-landers who ditched Vietnam. Alongside Park Plaza Mall is the cotillion group that refused to admit my black friends. A child of the 80s, I was taught we were past racial inequality. Even as my parents took me to St. Francis House where I watched chicken and dumplings poured from a can and served to the homeless, I thought I was separate.
“The only difference between us and them is that we were luckier,” my mom told me after leading a dream group for adjudicated women.
Perhaps my fear is misplaced. What does flourishing look like when you bloom from a naked, trembling truth?
I hunger. The poverty in me acknowledges the poverty in you.