sonder ( n )
“the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own— 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.” The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash
It’s said that our minds don’t make anything up from scratch when we dream, but rather we recreate images and storylines that we’ve seen before, yet perhaps don’t remember. Your mind is pulling the faces of people you’ve passed on the street or sat across from on the subway, and turning them into characters within the story of your dream.
How does our mind store so much memory, and yet we still forget so much?
I can still remember being on a flight next to my grandmother as a young child, noticing the specks of gold below us as we flew down the East Coast. “It looks like the man on the moon spilled his treasure chest again,” my grandmother told me. It was a beautiful image to have as a child, a giant’s gold spilled all across the landscape.
But as I got older and began traveling on my own, I began looking at that gold a little differently; the spilled treasure became a million city lights, a busy nightlife far below. And while I might be preoccupied with how many hours are left on my flight, who will meet me when I arrive at the next stop, or if the flight attendant is coming back with a hot cup of tea, below me are thousands, millions of people with their lights on, living their own unique lives. Filled with their own preoccupations and wonders.
A giant, spilled treasure chest is such a wonderful story to live by as a child- that there’s something greater than us we can depend on. That there’s a simple answer to a bigger question. There’s a single story for a million little lights. But when you really look, there are a million little lights. And each one of those lights belongs to another story: a birthday party, a movie-night, someone working late from home, a couple cooking dinner, someone sadly cooking dinner alone… and the list goes on. And on. And on. And on.
This is sonder.
Cities tend to overwhelm me sometimes; there are a lot of windows. And there are a lot of lights. And there are a lot of people living a lot of different lives. Writing different stories. It’s both incredibly overwhelming and incredibly beautiful at the same time.
And while I try to remember that each one of these people that I sit near on the commuter rail to North Station, that I am in line behind at a cafe waiting for my London Fog, or that I am waiting patiently to cross the street next to… each of these people has their own story. And despite the idea that I am the main character in my own personal narrative, I am just an extra in theirs. I am the girl engrossed in her book on the commuter rail, the one who can’t decide if she wants oat milk or almond milk but definitely wants both honey and vanilla in her tea latte, the girl tapping her foot and humming along to the song in her head as she waits for the “walk” signal.
I will be noticed and then forgotten. But I will be cataloged, and perhaps turn up in a dream.
Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash
“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize." ― Chimamanda Adichie
I'm challenging myself to take a breath. To think about the other stories being written around me. To not get angry, but pause when the same car tails me or passes me in the right lane, and wonder, where does she need to get to that I don't? To smile when my student tells me writing is stupid, and remember, this is harder for him than it is for me. To breathe when someone says something I just don't agree with.
I'm challenging myself to take a breath. To pause. To smile. To wonder about all the other lights on.
To consider all of the millions of other stories.