SonderNovember 05, 2013
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.
It’s easier to be the one that leaves than the one that’s left. With traveling, everyone is always leaving—you make fleeting connections with other travelers who can become your entire world within a matter of hours. And then, only a few hours or days or weeks later, you wave goodbye as you walk down the street, knowing full well that you really are saying goodbye, and not see you later.
I have met such incredible people while traveling, and had such amazing experiences. In The Real World, you don’t meet someone and, 15 hours later, find yourself watching the sunrise on your hostel’s roof or making plans to meet up in a different country in a month or maybe 6 weeks. You don’t find yourself talking about politics or social issues with foreigners on a daily basis—let me tell you, I have talked more about gun control and America’s healthcare system in the last 3 months than in my entire 22 years on this planet. Some of these people I have seen again, some of these people have faded into distant memory, some of these people I long to see again, and some of these people may be living with me in Saigon next year.
The thing about constantly meeting people is that you go through a routine: “where are you from where have you been how long will you be here where are you going omg this one time in Cambodia omg this one time in Hanoi omg this one time at the Full Moon Party.” It’s when you break this routine that strangers go from strangers to real people. Breaking this routine, every time, makes me fall a little bit in love with whomever I’m talking to. I love that he/she is a fully formed person, whose life has been 100% complete without me, but in whose life I have now caused a blip. I love that I can decide which parts of myself to share and which parts to withhold, and I love knowing that they can do the same. But it’s when you find out something real—his grandma is sick or she is afraid of the dark, he won’t kill a cockroach because it makes him sad or she is running from something with nowhere to go—that humanizes these people you meet. These things remind you that these people, these little blips in your life that appear and disappear with each new city, are real people. Real people with real problems, people with families, people with scars and fears and hopes and dreams. Remembering this can be overwhelming. Just imagining all of the lives you’ve been a part of that have continued on without you can be heartbreaking. I’m not good at letting go. My memory is too good, and my heart is too big.
Getting on a bus and waving goodbye can be the most painful thing in the world. Getting on the bus, when all you want to do is stay put, stay with these people because they are more important than the places you will go or sights you will see, is heartbreaking.