Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Sonder. Probably one of the most interestingly beautiful words I have heard in a while. I was first introduced to the word a few weeks ago at a my closing retreat for my volunteer year. The speaker was going to talk to us about the St. Vincent De Paul Society, but what I learned from him is that everyone is stepping in and out of my life just as quickly as I am stepping into and out of theirs. The definition the speaker gave was: 

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 way.

The word suggests that every person I meet, every person, has a life just as incredibly complex as my own and I have been told this exact same theme growing up. I was always told that we are unique and many times I have even told my friends that they are crazy, in their own awesome way. I was also told to think of others, walk a mile in their shoes, be a servant leader, and "how does that make them feel?" But sonder suggests a much deeper meaning to what I was taught growing up.

In no way what I was taught grow up was wrong, but it is a child's view on the outside world, where sonder provides a deeper, more meaningful, adult way of viewing the world.

Working with the poverty this last year, I really experienced sonderness because I was able to be apart of the growing process of another individual. My most vivid memory of this would be the first time I was told to sit in on parent teacher conferences. I had no idea what to say, I expected the parents to be against me,  be in their own snobby lives, but it was completely different (though I am told this is not true with all parent teacher conferences). Parents would come in and truly want to work with you on how to help their child excel, but not just to educate them to get a job, but rather to educate them so they didn't have to live the hard life they have had to live day in and day out to make ends meet. You could see the emotion in the parents eyes urning for their child to have a easier life, no matter the costs. The realization that each random passerby is living a life just as vivid and complex as my own. The parents of the Tenderloin truly showed me that. 

An epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground. I had a student that was constantly forgetting important materials for class almost daily. She would take her homework home and then forget it because she left it out, or took a different backpack. COME ON! It's not that hard to remember, and not only that shouldn't her parents make sure everything was in her bag before going to school!? Her epic story (later told to me by another teacher) invisibly unfolded negatively in my eyes because I didn't know she lived with her mother and her mother worked at night and was not able to check over her homework and backpack every night. The extra help the student needed (only a 4th grader) at home was not there and I didn't know that. After realizing her invisibly epic story, I was able to come up with a plan to help her start remembering things... oh yeah, it worked too.

There are billions and billions of people in this world, just think how many you interact with everyday, even if it's just eye contact. Since I learned about sonder I have been trying to keep a smile on in public places, because you never know just who you might effect that day, hopefully in a positive way.