This life is crazy. Overwhelming, intense, and crazy. It’s so easy to lose track sometimes. We get caught up in routines, responsibilities, politics, the news, the media, work, family ties, social networks, our own thoughts and those of others. Days and weeks go by in a blur while we get so focused on our own little lives that we don’t even realize we’re losing sight of everyone else.
I first found out about the word “sonder,” a neologism created by John Koenig, author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, through a friend I met in Bangkok. Don and I had stayed at the same hostel and met in our dorm, a six-sleeper room not far from Khaosan Road. That night we went out with the rest of our roommates. A group of backpackers amidst the crazy jungle that is Bangkok, a place that essentially is what you want it to be.
We drank Chang beer as we followed along with the flow of people, past tuk-tuks, shops and neon lights. Around midnight I found myself staring at a little boy – he must have been around ten – breakdancing in front of a crowd of cheering travelers. He was busy collecting money when a man grabbed the boy by the neck. The man pushed the boy down an alley before they disappeared through the back door of a nearby nightclub. His hand never left the boy’s neck.
Sonder: people, stories, contrasts
I remember this moment perfectly. This moment and the excruciating weight that was pushing me down. There were so many people, so many contrasts, so many life stories. Of exuberance and pain and poverty and joy and dependence and the freedom to do whatever. For a moment, I felt it all, and it was too much. Overwhelmed with the intensity of this realization that came crashing down on me I left Khaosan and hurried back to the hostel.
The next morning, not long after Don had checked out, I found a message on my phone. “So, I just thought of another word that you may or may not know,” it began. “I think it’s kind of a good way to describe how you felt last night succinctly. The word is “sonder” and it means to come to the realization that every person’s life you see is just as intricate and unique as your own, for better or for worse.”
A glimpse of beauty and madness of life
I don’t think I was ever able to fully describe the peace of mind that sonder has given me, or the gratitude I feel towards Don for sharing it with me. VOICES OF SONDER, I hope, will do that for me over time. After all, sonder is about the collective, the purest, deepest, truest sense of togetherness. Through a weekly interview series which I’ll be publishing on this blog, I hope to capture at least a glimpse of the beauty and the madness of life that I see within you and me, and everywhere around us.
We all have so many incredible, unique, inspirational, and diverse stories to tell. I want us to talk, to laugh and cry and bond over tiny similarities we never knew we had. I want us to share stories, to share life. I want to talk about dreams, fears, challenges, ideas, youth, art, what keeps us going, our inspiration and everything that makes life, well, life.
At the end of the day, we’re in it together.
This is my greatest passion.