The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines sonder this way: ” 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.” TDOS has a lot of really wonderful words that might not actually be words, but I really enjoy them anyway, particularly this one. I’ve been experiencing this feeling since long before I knew there was a word for it. I would say the first time I consciously remember feeling this way was around the time I was 10-11, maybe 12. I wrote a poem about passing people by in the airport, never knowing where they’re going, but always knowing you’d never see them again. I don’t think I still have the poem after my computer’s hard drive was wiped three years ago, but nonetheless I still experience this emotion frequently.
Tonight I got hit by this emotion intensely through a combination of two things. It was powerful enough to make me get out of bed and write this post. The first thing was a song lyric from Taylor Swift’s “Holy Ground.” The whole song is worth a listen, but the lyric that really got me thinking was this one: ” And I guess we fell apart in the usual way./And the story’s got dust on every page,/But sometimes I wonder how you think about it now./And I see your face in every crowd.” What gets me in this lyric was “the story’s got dust on every page” part. I really admire Taylor Swift’s song writing capabilities because she tells stories and captures emotions so well. She can compose all these different songs with completely different feels and her lyrics are very clever, and I genuinely just admire her ability to captivate audiences with her words. But that lyric just captures sonder for me because we’re all a part of somebody else’s story, and some of these stories have dust, and others are so frequently used that they’re completely clean. But it really emphasizes that our lives are stories, just like sonder details. I got to thinking about where we all are in life and who we’re surrounded by, and how that’s just a minuscule fraction of the people out there. Everyone thinks about those closest around them, and it’s mind boggling to think that there are millions of other high school/college age kids out there with their own friend groups thinking they’re the funniest, most original people around. We live our lives completely blind to the fact that there are other people out there that are more than just names and bodies. For those of you in college, go look at a friend’s profile on Facebook. Look at the hundreds of friends they have, especially those that are tagged in their photos, post things on their timelines, and all of that. Behind each of those profiles is a person and a story as rich as your own. Beyond that even, consider all the people in other cities, states, countries, and continents that you’ve never met and will never meet. Even further, you can think about all the people who’ve come before you and are already dead, and all the people who will come after you when you’ve died. So many personalities, and not one of them the same. Hold onto these thoughts throughout the rest of the post.
The other thing was a recent conversation I had with a friend. It wasn’t a very long conversation, but for the past eight or so months, this friend has been near absent from my life. He was a constant factor in my life for a solid two plus years and then he just stopped talking to me, and since then it’s been a real chore to keep him in my life, and sometimes I wonder whether I should bother trying anymore. But this recent conversation was just about doing something soon, and I was running through a conversation with him in my head, as we so often do. Sometimes I’ll just run through arguments in my head, or everything I want to say to somebody in my head, and a lot of what has been running through my head relates to whether we should continue being friends, how important he was to me, how his absence has affected me, and also just the “I know you have other friends and a job and bla bla, but that’s no excuse” kind of stuff. All of that is to say that tonight I was really focusing on my presence in his life, and his presence in mine. Nobody knows exactly what they mean to another person, or how their relationship will change over the course of their lifetime. I began thinking to myself, “I know you have other friends, and so do I. My life wouldn’t be over if I never spoke to you again. I’ve been managing just fine these past eight months without you. But that’s not the point. Even if your life or my life wouldn’t be over, think about what we could’ve gained.” That kind of thought just hit me. Every friend we have gives us something to gain. If we lose a friend, we have other friends and the potential to make more friends, so our world won’t exactly end, but it always feels like it does because we hold onto those feelings about how much better our lives could be (or were) if/when they were around. This friend is one of my closest friends, and I love him dearly, but if he did ultimately fall out of my life and I from his, we’d both move on eventually. I would have other spectacular friends who add a lot to my life, but I would definitely miss the great things we could’ve had.
Taking those two examples to heart, I suddenly became overwhelmed at the idea of not at least meeting everyone in the world. Of course, such a task is pretty much impossible, but I know that somewhere out there is another person who could enrich my life. If I can find these many amazing people immediately around me, then how many more are out there? Consider for a moment that you’ve spoken and met ~10,000 people in your life that you’ve spoken to for however short a conversation. The customer service agents, the cashiers, the people you bump into in the hall, or your closest friends and family. How many of those 10,000 people would you say are reasonably meaningful to you. 10? 25? 50? Let’s assume 10 people, which is probably a lot less than your actual number, but this will only serve to show you a minimum. The current population of the world is almost 7.3 billion people. If 10 out of those 10,000 people you’ve spoken to are close, then statistically speaking you could be close to 7.3 million people globally. And that’s a minimum. Of course there are different factors that will raise that number or lower it, but just think about all those people out there that you could improve your life, or whose lives you could improve. The number isn’t really important, but the idea that there are hundreds of people who could be very special to you is kind of intimidating, and kind of sad because you can’t get to know them all. We all love having really close friends, and to an extent, it would stand to reason that more close friends is better. You never really know who could be that friend until it happens. It makes me sad. Walking around my campus I see hundreds of people every day all pursuing their own dreams, talking to their own friends, listening to their music, or doing whatever it is they’re doing. I can’t bear to think that I’ll never even know the names of those people and never get to know them deeper. I’ll never get to hear their deepest fears or loves or their sense of humor or about their crazy family or what not. Everyone has a story they want to be heard, and I want to hear it for them, but I just can’t do it.
But that does bring me back around to what I do have in my life. It makes me sad to think I can’t get to know everyone, but it also makes me grateful for the handful of people I do have in my life who are that special to me, or may become that special to me as time goes on. I’m a really mushy person as I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but I just don’t like casual friendships. If you’re my friend, given time I expect to know you and you to know me. I understand sometimes you have to have casual friendships for any number of reasons, but anywhere you go you’ll find new people to become your close friends. I have them in Colorado, and now I have close friends here in Utah. Not the same degree of closeness since I’ve known these people for all of three weeks or less, but you know. Give it some time. I mean, we all come back to each other for some reason, right? Even if it’s just to have somebody instead of nobody, we’re still friends for now, and getting to know each other is just bound to happen. I’m a sucker for deep and dumb discussions about secrets and love and hate and fear and spirituality and anything else that pops out. Because when you get down to it, I really feel as though I just love people. Sure they mess up a lot and give me a lot of reasons not to love them, and there are some people that are harder to love than others, but I really am just enamored by watching people and interacting with people. That makes me sound creepy, but I can’t really help it, and I KNOW I’m not the only person like this. I like to look at people’s faces, their smiles, couples talking, people laughing, learning everything about them there is to know. I wish it were less frowned upon to stare at people, because I find it way too fun.
So that’s all I can really say. I’ll just end with some final thoughts. Definitely remain open to forming new relationships, because there’s almost no limit to the number of people you can befriend. We’re social creatures and we need other people to survive, especially close friends. Also, be authentic. I get so tired of artificiality and surface level friendships because anyone can do that. The fun stuff is underneath the surface. Nobody eats crab shells, it’s the mushy interior that tastes the best. I can understand not getting too deep too fast, but if we’re going to call each other friends, you better have your story open for me to read, because I want to read it, and I would like you to read my story as well. That’s one reason I write this blog: so other people can know me with less filter. I can tell I’m being authentic on this blog because I feel embarrassed afterwards and secretly hope certain people don’t read it. But I publish it anyway because I don’t want to hide myself from people, even if that means I get teased a little for admitting things that are questionable in some way. Sonder is such a strange emotion that I love and hate at the same time. I think it’s important though, and it’s humanizing to realize that all people have a story. It leads me to have more empathy. And if there’s one thing I know beyond a reasonable doubt, learning more about who your friends are is one of the greatest experiences you can have. So I challenge everyone to commit to your friends and learn as much as you can about them, and be open with them as well. I’m confident it’ll be for your benefit.