Large portions of schooling are memorizing ideas, and I took those ideas to be facts. For instance, students are told racism is wrong. They’ve memorized this, but as a student I was never told “why” I shouldn’t be racist. Maybe now I know.
Seven weeks ago I set out on my big adventure. The morning before I left, the air was thick with tension and my knees were mushy for no good reason. At breakfast, my dad put it best, “two hours to liftoff,” as if I would be leaving for an alien world. Truth be told, I thought I was in for a trip to places so wild they would be unrecognizable, as if people wouldn’t be people, and cities would appear from nothing--movies flashing before my eyes, never to continue when I hit the “off” button. But they weren’t. After a dozen countries, twenty-five cities, and one middle-of-nowhere, I’ve met people: poor, rich, sad, happy, angry, spiteful, learned, uneducated, adventurous, afraid, passionate, and in every combination. Each person I meet will have lived a life before even realizing I’m out there, and vice versa. An obvious statement, but in practice it’s my hardest lesson.
There’s a word for it, for realizing that everyone has their own life, and unfortunately it can only be found on Urban Dictionary. The word is sonder. I’ve heard it before and even grasped it for a moment, but could never master it. You can think about it, possibly understand it with ease, but applying it is hard. Staying sonder is when my hostel owner in Sarajevo, a city who underwent the longest siege in modern history, has a best friend who served in the siege on Sarajevo. Staying Sonder is to understand that this hostel owner also served on the front lines defending Sarajevo. Staying Sonder is to expect everything and believe nothing. When two people can look past what they “know,” and give the benefit to the doubt, they are sondering. Embodying the word sonder means abandoning hyperbolic discriminations. Sonder is to abandon personal experience--to assume that your experience is a thin slice of reality, and will never be anything more. It goes against every fiber of my being to greet every person I meet with an ego as naked as a newborn, and a mind as sondered as a universalist, but now I’m not sure I owe anyone any less.
I traveled through parts of the world that have land mines, acute racism, more stolen Mercedes than legal Civics, and officials as crooked than their mobster counterparts. I saw all these things, and these are among the most memorable, but that’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that millions of people have stories that will never be told, but are important nonetheless.