First coined by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows in 2012, the word ‘sonder’ describes that feeling of wonder and awe we experience when we realize, just for one fleeting moment, that every single stranger passing us on the street has a life just as exciting, detailed and complex as our own, complete with their own dreams, aspirations, ambitions, mistakes, quirks, friendships and rivalries. Each strange face we pass on the street without really noticing has its own stories and inside jokes, its own history that we will never find out, but which exists all the same.
Each of our lives is a story, a vivid, complex, minutely detailed tale of love and hate, success and failure, ups and downs, which together make up the script of our existence. And we are the star of this story. The billions of stories in millions of towns, cities, and villages mingling to form one grand, epic tale; immensely fascinating, yet too long to be read at one go. You would need several lifetimes to know them all.
We are the protagonist, the lead character of one such narrative. We occupy the center stage in our own story.
As supporting characters around, we have our close friends and family that stay with us, adding shades of happiness and sorrow, laughter and tears to our tale. Beyond them is the circle of our acquaintances, drifting in and out of our lives, adding tinges of their own shades to the painting of our existence – some bright, some dark.
At the absolute periphery of this painting, blurry and out of focus, are the background characters’ faces. The cars we pass on the highway, co-passengers on the subway, the people sitting around us at a restaurant. They’re the characters who flicker in and out of our stories, barely noticeable—a tiny drop in the ocean of drama and incidents in our life.
And within each of these drops is a story as spectacular and happening as our own – thoughts as vivid, ambitions and dreams as amazing, regrets as painful! The young girl who sat beside you on the bus was heading home after a friend’s birthday party at the mall, where she met a cute guy whose number she’d scribbled hastily on the palm of her hand. The old lady at the grocers’ had scolded her grandkids that morning and was now buying cocoa powder to bake them a cake and make up for it. The grumpy doorman had fought with his wife, whom he had met at the same fair you’d visited with your parents as a kid.
And in these vivid, complex, and exhilarating stories with wonderful protagonists and interesting side-characters, you might be a blurry face in the background. A peripheral character that appears only once. A distant memory in the mind of the child who traveled with you on that overnight train, for whom you had bought a bar of chocolate from the vendors. Hell, they might even tell stories about you to the side-characters in their own lives, anecdotes which you might never even get to hear, but which would always carry a piece of your history with them anyway.
So the next time you get up on a public bus or go out with friends to the neighborhood café, take a good look at the various faces around you, at the colorful lives and vivid stories they represent, and feel the wonder of ‘sonder’!