A totally made up word from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig:
Sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. 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.
I came across this quote a couple of years ago on tumblr. I was in high school at the time – everyone in our graduating class virtually knew or met every other person in some capacity sometime during the six years we were all together. So I while I could appreciate what this word meant, I could not internalize it. I could see how other people would have this feeling, but I couldn’t experience it myself.
Now here I am in college. My circle of acquaintances and friends make up less than 1% of all the students in my graduating class, let alone the entire school. It’s true what they say about large college campuses – I’m a small fish in a very large ocean.
Not only are we less significant, but we all live our lives so closely to one another, in very similar ways – I see hundreds or maybe even thousands of people walking by me on the way to class, studying next to me at the library, listening with me to the professor or TA during classes, eating near me in the dining halls, working out near me at the gym. Yet despite all of our shared similarities, I know not a single one of them.
In other words, it becomes clearer with each passing day what it means to experience sonder.
That person entering that classroom over there 200 feet away in all likelihood as as many family members and friends as I do, whose deaths he’d grieve for as strongly as I’d grieve the death of any of mine. There are people Snapchatting him ugly selfies every day, people who know his idiosyncrasies far better than I ever will. He believe himself to be as connected and significant to the world around him as I believe myself to be connected and significant to that very same world. He is more than an avatar in my field of awareness, but a real breathing person who is just as important as I am. There is no logic that makes his birth and his existence any more or less justified than mine. Yet I’ll never know his name, nor those of the countless billions of humans who live, have lived, and will live on this planet Earth.
And this same thinking applies from the point of view of every single of one those beings.
It blows my mind.