I can’t be the only one that wonders about strangers? Who they are? Where they’re going? Where they’ve been? What their why is? I do it more often than I care to admit and last weekend was no exception. I accidentally found myself on the M25 (don’t ask), with only myself and my playlist for company. My thoughts soon turned to the people I was sharing endless miles of tarmac with. Could any of them be listening to the same song as me? (The Cure might be a bit retro, but I can’t be the only person in the world to love a bit of Robert Smith?) Had they ever run over a duck…? (I promise I’ll get over that soon). Was this the first time I’d ever shared a motorway with them? Were any of them on the run from the police? How many could beat me in a game of table tennis? How did people in the same cars know each other? (if indeed they did? I couldn’t be sure). If I said it out loud, how many would say the word “eyelash” at exactly the same time as me? Why could none of them see the inside lane…?

It reminded me of a word that I stumbled across a while ago;

Sonder; 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. John Koenig http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com 

I’ve often thought about what it is that binds us all together, whether the six degrees of separation is the stuff of fact or fiction. When disaster strikes, the people involved are thrown together to be frozen in time, as a tragic piece of history. Conversely, the strangers with whom we share magical experiences soon disappear to return to their own lives, never knowingly to cross our paths again.

How important are the fleeting connections? Maybe they mean nothing, maybe they mean everything. I’ve crossed paths with countless strangers who come to mind so readily, even after many years;

  • The woman I met on a plane on the way home from Germany. A barrister in the city, who hours earlier had left her husband in Hamburg (for good) after years of being in an unhappy marriage. Her daughter sat on my lap most of the way, while we chatted about strength, passion and the meaning of life. I remember she left me feeling like I’d met a force of nature and when she acknowledged me as a strong woman, it really meant something coming from her
  • I knew love at first sight existed when I met Chloe, but the guy I locked eyes with at the doctors surgery many years ago was the first man I’d ever seen that made me believe it was possible romantically. Our (I say ‘our’, obviously I mean ‘my’) very special moment was swiftly ruined by the 72 year old (I’m guessing, I didn’t ask) who decided the gap between us was big enough for him and his germs. I never saw either of them again…
  • The man passed out in a hedge at the side of a country lane on my way home from the gym. My compassion stretched as far as to stop, check he was alive, wake him up, give him the lunch I’d just bought myself and point him in the direction of home, but not far enough to give him the lift he asked for… I still wonder what would have happened had he been hit by a car, whether I would ever have been able to forgive myself for not taking him home. Thankfully there were no deaths reported on the back streets of my home town that week…
  • The man I high fived on a run round Pitsford when we both realised we were wearing the same London marathon finishers tops. We shared 2 moments – one we were both aware of, the other where we were most likely completely oblivious to each other’s existence, strangers in a crowd with 40,000 other people (he looked like a ‘proper runner’ so its probable the only time I would have seen him is if he’d lapped me. I imagine he’d jogged round twice, had the obligatory post run massage, downed 2 beers and was halfway back to Northampton by the time I made it to Tower Bridge)

And then of course there’s the strangers who’ve become friends, some of whom I know I made a terrible first impression on. I left my first meeting with a guy called Mike, throwing my toys out of the pram and muttering the word “t*sser” under my breath (I think I managed to refrain from saying it out loud – ‘professional Claire’ keeps me in check most times at work). Turns out after having the pleasure of actually working with him, he’s a genuinely nice guy, who’s both courageous and kind. Sorry Mike, you’re officially not a t*sser in my book! There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

It’s hard to believe that at one point in my life I hadn’t even met my closest friends. How I survived for so long without some of them, I honestly don’t know.

So, as I’m wrapped up warm, deftly defying the Beast from the East with my herbal tea and hot water bottle, pondering if the next cold weather front will be named the Pest from the West (and whether my next job could be as a writer of puns), my thoughts turn to who I’ll get to meet on my travels. Each one of us living unconnected lives right now, but who at some point in the not too distant future, I’ll share something special with. Maybe I’ll get to leave a lasting impression on someone, possibly one day be referenced in an as yet unwritten blog, through a random twist of fate. Or maybe I already am… It’s likely I’ll never know. And that my friends, and any strangers who happen to be reading this, is the beauty of sonder.

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5 thoughts on “Sonder

  1. I think about this all the time! Something else for me is when I’m in an ancient place or see something (bridge, building, etc.) built long ago, I want to know who the people were that built it, what their lives were like. I had never heard of sonder before, so thanks! It’s nice to know that the thing I think about has a name. 🙂

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  2. I saw this word for the first time recently too and immediately connected with it. I often marvel at how we can just briefly have an overlap of our paths with someone else and wonder if they ever think about it like I do. I do the same thing with places. I will be somewhere and think about who else has been at that place before what they experienced there. I see people in the background of my pictures and wonder about their stories and then I wonder if I have ever been in the background of someone else’s picture and if they ever thought about who I was and what my story is. When traveling and we pass houses (especially out in the country) I wonder about the people living there and what their lives are like – their loves and fears. A part of me always wonders if some day after we are dead we will know more about these different people who have briefly touched our lives and whose lives we have briefly touched. Thanks for sharing this post. It is something I have always wondered about myself.

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    1. It’s a great word isn’t it?! Some of the others John Koenig’s invented are equally as thought provoking. I often think about who lived in my house before I did – when I was a kid I lived in a 500 year old cottage, it used to fascinate me to think about who’d been there before I was… 7.4 billion people in this world – what are the chances of meeting any of them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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