12 April 2013


Here's one I'd never heard of before:
"Sonder" - n. - 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 had experienced it before; I just didn't know it had a name.  

Sometimes, when riding the CTA, for instance, or driving down the highway, it occurs to me that everyone around me is playing his or her own tune, marching to be beat of his or her own drum, wrestling with his or her own demons, and aiming at his or her own happiness.  I see them for a 40-minute ride or for a quick pass on the interstate, and that is all the connection we will likely ever have.

Sometimes the connections have a bit more of a lifespan.  I have students a semester at a time.  I have neighbors that might be around a year or ten or more.  I have had playmates, classmates, roommates and housemates.  I have friendships going back over thirty years, colleagues going back over twenty, and fellow sangha members going back over ten.  In the end, whether for a day or a decade, the connection is one of many, has its stops and starts, and may have greater significance for the other person(s) or for myself.  I may factor you more into my narrative than you factor me into yours, for instance.

For the most part, though, the basic truth remains: I am on some irreducible level but a bit player in others' scripts as they are but bit players in mine.  If I'm lucky, I might get involved with some one person enough to use the term "spouse" and a few people enough to use the term "friend."  Beyond that, I might have a few score of acquaintances, some few hundred people I recognize by sight, and, well, that's about it out of a lot of almost seven billion on the planet.

The definition above is taken from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.  I have to say, I don't perceive it as a sorrow but more as the basis of a quiet joy.  You see, it is precisely because I don't know you very well that I can feel honored to be let in on your life.  When I realize I really don't know what's going on with you, I can find in you a source of fascination and growth.  Whatever you let me in on becomes a gift, not just a matter of course, and you remain a source of mystery for me all the same because there is so much more that I am as yet (or can ever really become) aware of.

Like the silence which makes sound, sound, and like the amorphous background that makes objects, objects, our everyday anonymity and obscurity is that which makes friends, friends and lovers, lovers and fellow travelers on the Way, brothers and sisters.

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