n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
A website called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows created a word for one of my life-changing moments. I remember this moment from many years ago as vividly as if it had happened today. I was on a bus in upstate New York. I forgot where I was going, which is strange to me as busses are not a common form of transportation where I am from. We were driving through a small village on a wet and dreary day. It was one of those days where you settle down with a good book and an oversized sweater. I, however, was gazing out the window watching the world pass by. Taking in the new sights, appreciating the historic buildings, and trying desperately to keep from getting motion sickness. We had stopped at a red light, and I looked into the large storefront window of a coffee shop. A family sat at a table inside clearly happy to be spending time together. The mother and father sat on the left while the two children sat on the right. Their red backpacks still upon their backs and pieces of paper with their drawings waving in their hands. Time seemed to stop as I watched the two siblings animatedly describe their pictures. Pointing with their tiny fingers to different sections of their art. The mother and father listened with soft smiles on their faces. I could see the children’s eyes light up with excitement all the way from the bus. The stoplight turned green, and the bus carried me away from the unfolding scene. At that moment, I realized how intricate and raw the lives of others were. Of course, I understood that to an extent before this experience. I knew everyone had hopes and dreams; that their days were eventful and emotional. Rather than a realization, maybe it should be called a deeper understanding. In that single moment, my mind’s eye imagined the two siblings in a classroom drawing their pictures, colored pencils sprawled across the desks, laughter, and excitement. I could feel the parents pride and amusement from their children. I could feel their laughter bubbling up from their bellies and their lips tightening as they attempted to hold it back. I felt as though I were sitting at the table with them celebrating the children’s creativity.
From that moment, as I make my way through this fast past world, I can not help but feel closer to the strangers around me. I feel a comradery and kinship that connects us. I have experienced sonder many times since that rainy day on a bus, and it reminds me to try and be empathetic and understanding to everyone I meet. To remember that they have or have had hardships. That they have experienced sadness, fear, and isolation. The ground shattering emotions that engulf me also overpower them. We are merely humans trying to find happiness in this rollercoaster we call life. We are all the same, we are all one species, brothers and sisters. We are ancestors from a primitive time, the foundation to the future generations. We all want to fight for a cause, have our voices heard, live in a world that we think is right. Although our viewpoints may not align, if we can remember that behind each opinion are years of lived experiences and emotions that are all-encompassing.
For me, this feeling of sonder has humbled me. Taken my life off a pedestal. It heightened my drive to fight for the happiness of other people. Sonder has reminded me that everyone has an untold story. That they have complex thoughts and feelings just as strong as my own. We are all one. We share this planet, we work together, and I hope we can all reach the happiness we have been striving for together.
~ Stay Chipper Friends ~
Video from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
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