The mid-morning sun peeked over a familiar ridge-line, illuminating a cascade of periwinkle-blue, yellow, white, and pale pink wildflowers and cactus blooms.
Our hiking shoes crunched along the trail of crushed rock and fine dirt as the crisp, cool air quickly transitioned into summer heat with rays of sunlight banking off my rosy, freckled cheeks.
Pausing in the middle of the steep incline, with the Boulder, Colorado, Flatiron Mountains behind us, I carefully handed our 16-pound son over to my husband—relieving my body from carrying his weight, whilst sharing a turn of the joy-filled experience ever present with Leo’s small frame held against our bodies in nature.
I remember standing there, taking an extra breath or two. Watching my husband, Ryan, effortlessly cradling Leo in his arms, patting his butt to elicit a full-bodied giggle, followed by a sigh of elation as his little feet began to kick, signaling it was time to continue our hike.
Just over a year later, I’m able to close my eyes and transport myself back to the moment on that random-yet-special Tuesday morning. Existing in a world where my beloved son has since passed away, I’m forever grateful for these distinct, palpable memories.
While a few photos were eventually snapped that morning, pictures will serve as an accompaniment to the beautiful story lived out on our hike. Holding awareness of our memories fading as years go by, I’ll lean on photos to aid in future reminiscence for decades to come.
Joy Of Missing Out (JOMO) has become the simple answer to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), but the sweet spot resides just between the two.
Choosing the middle way in resistance to the all-or-nothing mindset allows for full appreciative relaxation in the present moment. Being in FOMO prioritizes documentation, or over-doing it with photos and videos. While JOMO encourages you to be in the moment, leaving technology behind. If we find a balance between the two extremes, equally prioritizing enjoyment of the present moment and using technology to thoughtfully document, our special moments can genuinely pass without regret.
In a world of recording and photographing everything remotely-special for our social media feeds, presence and opportunity to cultivate a memory are sacrificed. While the present is fleeting and a photo lasts forever, to me, a photo defeats the purpose of reliving an under-appreciated moment to begin with.
My husband and I recently took a trip to San Juan Island, just off the coast of Seattle, Washington. The area is known for its resident orca whales—most notably, the J-Pod which is one of the most-studied whale families in the world—who semi-frequently pass along the western shore of the island. Only visiting for a couple of days, we planned to scope for whales at sunrise and sunset, knowing we’d be lucky to catch even a glimpse of an iconic black dorsal fin where the ocean meets the sky.
With low expectations on my end, Ryan was elated-yet-unsurprised to see the telltale movement and blowhole expression of a killer whale on the distant horizon. One after another, we stood in awe and joyous wonderment witnessing the pod of whales moving in a line south past Dead Man’s Bay, where we were standing at an overlook in solitude. Grabbing a single sub-par photo, I was otherwise delighted by the magic unfolding before our eyes.
Five minutes in, a couple with Washington license plates drove their SUV along the overlook pull-off, bright excitement in their voices, they inquired if the J-Pod had swum by yet. The woman’s sister, a local wildlife photographer, had access to a private social media group who reports whale sightings, so they were driving along the island hoping to spot them.
Barely pulling far enough off the road, they parked behind our camper van and hurriedly made their way down the rocky overlook to share our epic view. The woman, close to our age in her mid-30s, mentioned she has waited her whole life to see orca whales, especially considering she’s lived on the Olympic Peninsula for over 10 years. This opportunity was long overdue.
Reaching the lookout, she viewed the entire once-in-a-lifetime spectacle through the rectangle of her phone, frantically and haphazardly scanning the horizon in futile attempts to zoom far enough in and capture a barely recognizable photo or fully-blurry video of an orca quickly coming up for air. Admitting with a laugh, half aware of the irony, “If I don’t have proof to share online, did it actually happen?”
She’s missing it! I thought to myself, benevolently wondering what exactly she would take away from the encounter. Or, in five years, while searching for the dorsal fin in photos, would she hold any emotion toward the orca whales she waited a lifetime to see?
Maybe I’m coming off as judgy. But our society clearly has an obsession with needing documentation, robbing ourselves of literal magic.
In our unique experience as Leo’s mom and dad, we consistently carried our phones and camera at the bottom of our hiking bag, forcing ourselves to be in the moment. As parents of a child with a limited life expectancy, we lived by toeing the line between overwhelming pressure to make the most memories in Leo’s shortened life and thoughtful slowing down. Strangely, there was always a rebellious feeling attached to the latter.
Learning how to weave the polarizing views by prioritizing intentional presence during the real-life experience, providing JOMO, followed by documenting with a photo or video, feeding our FOMO, was revolutionary!
Not only were we able to cherish the present moment’s beauty, but also had a thoughtful souvenir to evoke this memory down the road.
The thousands of photos we’re left with are physical representations, or proof, that these moments existed. However, secondary to revering the genuine lived experience.
Let us give ourselves the opportunity to unlock core memories by pausing to take in the beauty of our nows. How do we feel? What do we notice in the background? What are the details that make this experience special enough to reach for our phones to snap a photo, suspending the presence in time?
Contrary to surprisingly popular belief, things can happen and be enjoyed without proof on social media. Pictures do last forever, but the present moment is always fleeting.
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