Every Window is a Sonder

| March 26, 2017 | 0 Comments

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.”

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows*

photo credit: JEO Photography untitled via photopin (license)

photo credit: JEO Photography untitled via photopin (license)

Windows are strange things, especially lit up at night. From the ground, they are like dynamic paintings, little tableaus of existence hung against the darkness. Sometimes I pass one and look through. In general, people don’t look out their windows or at least at the passersby looking up. So they act like no one is watching. They doze. They drink. They dance…Sometimes they stop and stare into the blackness of the night, unable to see the movement outside, lost in their own lives. They are trapped in little bubbles like a single lightning bug in a jar. And here I am, a stranger peering in and watching them swim in their light.

I know I’m not supposed to see this. Those moments private and personal. I feel strange every time I do, but I’m still drawn in. There’s a beauty in their light, their life, and a sense of wonder that takes me out of myself. I’ve found that every window is a sonder.

It happens again during traffic jams. Locked in our own vehicles, another jar to swim around in, the fans roaring, the radio droning. As the sun beats down and the shimmering heat pushes back, my eyes often wander. Once again people don’t notice that others can see into their sphere. People fiddle with their phone or their hair, unseen thoughts floating in the filtered air around them. Sometime they stare at the shards of sunlight cutting into their vision, and sometimes they stare at the sky. Another moment of personal quiet, another life to pull me in.

This time, however, I’m not the only one watching. Other people’s eyes drift from scene to scene. It’s easy. Everyone is at the same level, all stuck in a moment of stasis. Bored. Hot. Tired. Sometimes, our eyes catch. It never lasts long, one or both always turns away, but just for a minute we connect, stranger to stranger. What are they doing on their way to somewhere? What kind of life brings them here? An instance of joint sonder, separate but shared.

And then the traffic moves, and we all move on.

photo credit: mripp Traffic via photopin (license)

photo credit: mripp Traffic via photopin (license)

We all put on masks to hide ourselves. When we meet someone for the first time, there’s something there, blocking us from seeing deeper. There’s always a persona, an image to project. We all do it. It’s a protection mechanism of sorts, a way to avoid pain (both physical and emotional) or to shelter what is already there. No one wants to be vulnerable to all the damage the world can cause or to let people know about the damage already done.

But something happens when we think that we’re alone. Stuck in a car, alone at night, the wall we build between ourselves and the world dissolves — and if there are windows, well, that allows someone a chance to peer in.


*According to the Oxford English Dictionary, sonder is not a “real” word and it was made up by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The word, however, does appear in French (meaning “to probe”) and German as a preposition.

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Category: featured, Philosophy and Religion, Poetry, Prose and Comedy

Violet Acevedo

About the Author ()

Stories, fictional and nonfictional, have always fascinated me. The desire to discover new stories is why I moved from Austin, Texas to Boston to go to school. The drive to learn about capturing stories is why I am in the College of Communication. And the need to express stories is why I write for this blog.

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