(Two things: 1. Image lifted from, fine purveyor of spray foam insulation products; 2. No, that’s not me in the photo. My haircut was even worse back then.)

On Wednesday I had the chance to see Al Gore. When I say “I had the chance to see Al Gore,” I mean he was going to be right outside the window. My English class let out at 3 p.m. and about 30 steps away Gore was scheduled to speak at 4 in the Tercentenary Theater, which is a fancy name for the patch of grass between Memorial Church and Widener Library here on the Harvard campus. (It’s called the Tercentenary Theater because it’s where Harvard celebrated its 300th anniversary. That was 72 years ago. Yes, this place has a bit of history.)

It was cold and wet and did I mention the speech would be outdoors, and just a reminder, the speaker was Al Gore. Seems like a nice guy. Probably right on global warming. Not exactly electrifying at the microphone. I stood in line for the free water bottle (“Green is the New Crimson” — little Harvard in-joke there) and started to skedaddle.

But then FOMO kicked in.

A few days ago somebody on the fellowship started using the word, and now I use it half a dozen times a day. It sums up what we’re all feeling. FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out.

There’s more to do here than you could do in 100 years, much less one. But one year is all we have. So we try to cram everything in.

For me, that means reading science experiments on the cerebellum then crowding around a living room to see if a few of us can write a song together then listening to two poets talk about sex then driving up to Maine for a day then trying (and pretty much failing) to understand Immanuel Kant then watching the Red Sox trying (and failing) to come all the way back.

That’s not all in the right order, but you get the idea.

There’s so much to do here — so many possibilities every day — that you always wonder about the events you didn’t go to, the speakers you didn’t see, the classes you didn’t take.

I know, I know, I can hear you playing the world’s smallest violin. Having too much great stuff to do is nothing to complain about. Nobody’s complaining, I don’t think. But the clock started running the day we got here and if you’re not careful all you can hear is the ticking in the back of your head. That makes it sound like a deadline. That makes it feel like work.

It took me two months to figure this out but now I think I understand FOMO. It’s not about missing out on what you could do here. It’s about missing out on what you couldn’t do  — or don’t do — back home.

We’re batting a thousand so far this year — we haven’t done a single thing yet that I came away from going Well, that sucked. But we do have lectures in Charlotte, and ball games, and I’m sure Al Gore will honor us with a visit at some point.

What I can’t get back home — or haven’t figured out how to get enough of — is those long sustained moments of quiet and beauty and grace that this year also provides, if we let it.

I skipped Al Gore. I went back to the Lippmann House (the fellowship HQ) and grabbed a cookie and a couple of magazines and sat at a long table in one of the front rooms looking out on the street. Couples strolled on the cobblestones and wet leaves danced down toward them like a ticker-tape parade. I stayed there watching for almost an hour. Wouldn’t want to miss out.


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