Coined by John Koenig in his book ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’, sonder is a noun used to describe the profound realisation that every random passerby is living a life as complex and vivid as your own.
In this vast spectrum of life, we often forget that we are just minor characters in someone else’s story because we are far too immersed in our own. From the bus driver to the person who took your order, it’s comforting and refreshing to acknowledge that everyone is navigating life’s highs and lows, much like we are, and that sometimes, we just need to zoom out of our own perspective. Without even knowing, we influence those around us, those we’ve yet to encounter, and even those we’ll never meet, as all our stories are intertwined in the most intricate ways. Recognizing this can heighten our self-awareness and realism, fostering greater compassion and understanding towards others.
After all, the world does not revolve around any of us.
Think of sonder as an orbital plane. We are at the centre; the main character, the protagonist, the star. Orbiting closely around us are our beloved friends and family, followed by our acquaintances, such as classmates, coworkers, and distant relatives— those who drift in and out of contact over time. Finally, in the outermost orbit, faint and less defined, are the extras; the people in the background, the random passersby, the side characters. What are their dreams, their goals, their aspirations? What are their mistakes, their regrets, their worries?
What is their story?
Now, imagine that those people are within their own orbital plane, with themselves at the centre and us as peripheral figures, appearing just once in their lifetime. We become a fleeting blur on the highway, a distant window’s glow in the night, or a sea of fellow students during their school days.
Your journeys will cross at that particular moment in time, before you both continue on your separate lives. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Everyone has a story.
Make yours a good one.
Written by Julya Yang and edited by Muskan Singla. Published on 17/9/23. Header image by Sarah Shin.