“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.”
It may seem obvious that you don’t know anything about someone just by looking at them, but it’s sometimes hard to believe: that cashier was short with me when I ordered my drink, she must be a rude person. But how do you know that? This is why I love the word sonder. This word seems to smack me in the face and say, “you don’t know what other people are going through.” Because you really don’t. There are years of success, failure, love, and heartache that you will never know about just by looking at someone. This thought baffles me. Each face that you see walking in the street, at a concert, on the news, has a story of their own that know one else will ever know the full extent to- except that person.
This realization is hard to come by. Think about the last time you were driving, when some asshole cut you off, almost causing you to swerve to the side of the road or hit another car. If you’re anything like me, you were probably cursing them out for the next ten minutes, wasting unnecessary energy on something that will never affect you again. They could have just been a complete asshole, or they could have been rushing somewhere because of an emergency. I’m bringing up this example because of a story my professor once told me:
“I was driving to work when someone cut lanes right in front of me, making me veer to the side and almost crash into the guard rail. I completely cursed him out! And when I noticed that it was my neighbor, that made it even worse. Later that day, I found out that he was rushing his wife to the hospital because she was having a heart attack. She didn’t make it.”
Even I felt guilty after she told me this. But that’s not the point- the point is, to realize, that everyone’s life is as complicated as your own, and there is no way to fully understand what someone is going through. I could be too hopeful, but maybe this is the realization that many people need to come by that would make everyone nicer to one another and be more sympathetic towards one another.
As for being the “extra sipping coffee in the background,” this brings about another school of thought with a different realization. When you walk down the street in a busy city, hundreds of faces walk past you. You don’t think to yourself, what are their problems, what makes them tick? They were just another face to you.
And to them, you are just another person they saw and forgot about. Or maybe they didn’t even see you. Maybe you were the person admiring that sexy man or woman walking down the street and you were just a nonexistent item in their heads. Before you start to dislike where I’m going, let me put it into perspective: you’ve done the same to other people, and haven’t even realized.
But who cares? This fact alone has made me realize that my small problems do not matter. They don’t change who I am as a person, and they’re not going to. I’m the type of person that will let something that happened years ago still bother me, and I hate it. I hope that by the time you’re done reading this, you’ve learned to let go of the little things that don’t matter, because they don’t. Let go. Forget about it.
And this is where travel comes in. When I meet people, I love thinking about how random the chance was that our lives crossed. I hadn’t even known that person existed until I shared a room with them in a hostel, or stayed in their apartment, or volunteered on the same project as them.
I don’t meet them and think, what insignificant things happened to you before I met you? It doesn’t matter. Right then and there, who they are as a person, is what matters. And sure, the more you get to know them the more you’ll learn- but think about it- they’re not going to share the fact that their favorite coffee cup broke, or the guy they liked started dating their best friend- because it doesn’t matter. The more you learn about a person, you will learn about the important things, the things that make them tick and make them who they are. Not the stupid stuff.
Think about this next time you meet someone, or even the next time you let something insignificant bother you. Wouldn’t you rather be happy?
And this is why I love traveling. Traveling has made me realize this. I’ve learned about other people who have struggled more than I have, and who are now the happiest people in the world. I’ve met someone who was a child soldier in the Liberia War and escaped to Norway a few years later. Because it was raining, he was unable to show us around Bergen, so we ended up talking to him for a few hours.
Travel. Meet people. You will learn more about the world and more about yourself than you ever thought imaginable. You will come to realizations such as this, and you will come to your own realizations.
Every single one of them will change you.