I recently stumbled upon a neat little web series entitled “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” by John Koenig. Every short video consists of a newly invented word he explains in depth. One word in particular jumped out at me: sonder. “sonder,” n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as yours. This feeling has always been something I have taken note of.
As a little girl, strapped tight in my car seat, gazing out the window at the cars passing down the busiest street in town, I would think: “Where are they going? Why do they have that in their car? What made them paint their car a gaudy purple color?”
Getting older, I remember thinking more and more about the world around me. In eighth grade, I went on a class field trip to New York City. Our flight back home, however, was delayed for three hours, leaving all these rowdy middle schoolers stuck at the gate, mostly unaware of the rolling eyes of the business people and drowsy mothers with their arms slung across their sleeping toddlers sitting around us. It was here that I realized that I wasn’t the only one waiting to get back home. I wasn’t the only one tired from a day’s worth of packing and bus rides. I wasn’t the only one hungry and cranky. The business man answered a phone call, explaining that he understood he was going to be late for the meeting. The mother dug a snack out of her purse and passed it to her waking child.
We got back home in the wee hours of the morning, and I didn’t think much more of the experience until recently. The realization that everyone has the feelings I do makes it easier to understand the bad things, too. The man in the van that just sped past me on the road could be heading to the hospital to see his wife give birth to their child. The mom with the screaming newborn in the grocery store hasn’t slept in days.
These average occurrences still give me a pang of annoyance, but taking a step back and thinking about their life makes me remember that we are all people. We all have lives filled with happiness and frustration and good days and bad days and children and mothers and homework and friends. It’s how we empathize with others that makes all the difference.
Sonder describes perfectly the way I feel when driving down a busy interstate, or dancing with the crowd at a concert of my favorite band, or listening to my teachers talk about their family. Everyone lives a vivid and complex life, and to me, that is beautiful. This I believe.
This I Believe Illinois is an essay program for high school seniors to share their perspectives as they prepare to enter adulthood. Each year, a panel selcts ten submitted essays to be recorded by their authors for broadcast on NPR Illinois. Since 2007, the selected authors also deliver their essays at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise where the students receive scholarships from the organization.