I have said (well, typed), more than once on these pages, that no one – not me or you or that guy over there – is just one thing.
That doesn’t mean that one of someone else’s ‘things’ isn’t the big, giant thing that pushes all your least-attractive-version-of-yourself buttons, but I am telling you… seriously… that one thing isn’t their only thing (and your one thing that makes that person crazy isn’t your only thing either).
I honestly believe that this idea – that my fellow humans are multi-dimensional marvels with hopes and dreams and devastations and confusions and crushing defeats and wondrous elations equal in nuance and importance to my own (and everyone else’s) – has been key to my own ability to come back to my center, stay present… blah blah blah… and also to my generally optimistic outlook (which more than one person has described as “lab-like” (no, not science-y lab-like, Labrador retriever lab-like (and, no, I’m not kidding))).
This deeply held belief moves into my head and heart and soul without permission (it is a precocious notion) when I want to dismiss, or label, or flippantly assign motive to someone else without real evidence of word matching deed. My poor children would probably, and happily, recite my teachings along these lines if you asked them (expect rolls of eyes and laughter when some of their recitations are regurgitated in perfect unison (I’ve seen and heard it (dammit!)).
Anyway, about a year ago, a friend forwarded me a graphic – one of those internet-dwelling ‘memes’. The words, in a typewriter-y font, floated over a moody, black and white image of trees. It was a definition, of a word I hadn’t heard before. Her accompanying note said something like, “OMG, how many times have you talked about this?!”.
I saved it, and this is what it said:
Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
I remember thinking, “There’s a word for it?!”
So, of course, I Googled.
‘Sonder’, it turns out, is a neologism – a term that may be relatively new or even on the cusp of common use. Turns out that, in 2012, a guy by the name of John Koenig took a stab at coming up with words for emotions that seemed to have no good ones. He published The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, on YouTube (it’s there right now).
It’s a beautiful project, with narrated videos for each introduced word. Being a big believer in word-maker-uppering, and also emotions and pondering and wonder-ing and magic-ing and stuff, I’m a fan.
The Sonder video also begins with a murmuration of birds (just sayin’. How can one look away from that?!).
Since my friend first sent the meme to me, I’ve seen various images and videos and links featuring ‘sonder’, and I smile every time… because it means more and more of us are becoming aware that it’s a thing.
Which is kind of cool, and maybe important.
In case you can’t follow that link to YouTube for some reason, allow me to type some of the narration here (all credit to John Koenig):
… the realization that each 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 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 by on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
If not pushed away, but embraced, this reality makes it very hard to label, or dismiss. or cancel, or trivialize, or generalize anyone.
None of us is just one thing… none more or less present in this world than anyone else… none more or less likely to be in anyone else’s periphery. We are all alive and worthy and wrapped in our stories.
True for me… true for you… and seven point eight billion other human beings.
The fact that this concept long ago found a place in my being doesn’t keep me perfect by any means (what neologism could, really?), but when I tap into it, it’s as if two gentle hands put themselves on my shoulder, and turn me in the right direction…
And into the stamina necessary to stay in with the good and grounding stuff when things get tough, sticky… when I don’t understand where someone, or someones, else is coming from.
The thing is…
When things feel like they are going sideways, and we are feeling oh, so right (and then, potentially, graduating to righteous), it simplifies things to paint ‘The Others’ with just one brush – Just One Thing. But I am telling you, doing so is an oil-slicked fireman’s pole that drops us straight into dark and crazy spaces and places.
I know it sometimes feels like our parents have locked us in a room and told us we can’t come out until we work out our differences. But we kind of have to.
Because one planet.
With all the gravity and atmosphere and stuff, we’re kind of stuck.
Even with NASA and SpaceX, the concept of an off-planet utopian existence is kind of a pipe dream.
No, really. I’ve considered this. First, I couldn’t even go alone on the spaceship, because – at the very least – I’d need a space pilot and space crew. That means people. Eventually, we’d disagree about something (My guess: The guy from engineering who plays his techno music too loud in the space gym). And then that guy, and his freaky techno-worshiping supporters, would all dig in and – boom! – two tribes. At that point, I’d realize I blew it. Because I’d be stuck on a spaceship, rocketing toward a distant planet that isn’t even colonized yet, already anxious about the potential for acid-blooded xenomorphs (I’d compartmentalized that part), and having to deal with this stupid techno controversy knowing Lieutenant Cindy won’t ever budge off her jazz-or-die stance).
Not a great scenario.
Best try to work things out with the folks here, on Earth.
Each with their own life and story.
As rich, and wondrous, and meaningful…
As my own.
Thanks for readin’.
Comments and shares are always appreciated, and you can do that right here (well, not, like, RIGHT here… down there. See?). You can also join fellow ponderers over on the Just Ponderin’ Facebook page (there’s a bit of extra stuff too – from photos to observations to conversations. C’mon over any time!)