Chances are you’ve never heard of this word before. It’s okay, neither did I until today. But it’s one of those words which when you find out the meaning, it blows your mind and sends a tingle of familiarity down your spine that is so deliciously relevant that you wonder how you hadn’t crossed paths with it before.
Sonder basically refers to the feeling you get when you’re hit by the sudden realization that strangers – the strangers you pass by on the streets, or sit next to in the metro, or wait in line behind at Starbucks – have a life every bit as complex, beautiful, tragic and confusing as yours. Furthermore, it encompasses the feeling you get when you realize you are nothing more than a cameo in their lives, and maybe not even a significant one, but you are. Everyday you form a minuscule piece in the grand scheme of someone else’s life. Your existence isn’t just applicable to your own life but it is a constituent of the lives every whom you pass.
I’m so happy to have a word for that feeling I get because I get that sense of sonder very often, particularly when I’m making my way home by myself. I love feeling sonder (is that the correct usage? WELL, IT IS NOW) because it reminds me that 7 billion is a big number but no matter how big a number it is, us humans interact in so many different ways, significant and insignificant. You exist as a blur in someone’s periphery, as a lit window, and the fact that we are unimportant and yet so present in someone’s life is so inherently magnificent to me and it reminds me that if my presence, if my existence is acknowledged, why the hell shouldn’t I make it count?
There’s seven billion people on this planet and you likely won’t get to meet a fraction of that number. Why not make sure that the people you bump into in the mall think of you as a bit more than a grey-faced stranger?
Feeling sondered (??) is supposed to unsettle you. But it needn’t. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all irreplaceable constituents of the human species.
So take that, Beyonce.