I am reprinting my daughter’s blog today because it is deep and it is touching. I‘m sure you will love it like I did.. I encourage a visit to her blog at http://www.traumamom4.com.
Sonder — noun. 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.
I am mesmerized. A medical student asked me to write a letter of recommendation for her. That’s typical. We work closely with students…they ask us to write letters. They usually send us their CV (like a resume for academic folks) and a personal statement. Often times I feel like if I’ve read one personal statement, I’ve read them all. But this student introduced me to the concept of “sonder” in her statement…and I can’t get past it.
Sonder is the wonder that is my life…and yours. It’s the magical understanding that we all live these crazy, complicated, ugly, beautiful, wild lives. It’s the belief that the intersection of my life and yours is as it was meant to be. Our stories collide for a moment, a period, or a lifetime. And it’s actually just so indescribably simple yet complex…all at once.
Maybe I am especially attuned to sonder as I move about my daily work, interacting with dozens of new people every day, all of whom have a powerful story… how they landed in the Emergency Department and became my patient. The stories I hear shock me, bore me, and break me; the bizarre, the mundane, and the tragic. But every single person has a story. And the older I get, the more interested I am in hearing the story.
Talking to a friend today…we talked about our stories, the narrative we create for ourselves, and also the narrative others create for us, over which we have little control. We decided that, in the end, we can’t allow other people’s understanding of us, right or wrong, determine our worth or dictate how we perceive ourselves. Our own story is our best story. And the way we embrace our story has everything to do with how we feel about ourselves.
I believe that every brush we have with another human has the power to change us forever. The fatherly figure my friend and I met in an ice cream shop in Chicago for 15 minutes when we were 17; the friendly lady who I bumped into at the Verizon store in 2010 who prayed over me for a year and remains a friend on social media to this day; the student whose toes I stepped on at a concert who became my research mentee. We are connected with lines some as thick as the rope that holds an anchor and some as thin as a whisper. But connected no less.
My story is constantly changing. Every day, I learn something new. I meet someone new. And I am constantly milling about in this complex world with 7 billion of my friends who have their own beautiful story. It’s infinitely humbling to believe this. That my story is no more difficult or interesting or better than any other.
I love to hold a hot cup of espresso in my hands after dinner. It’s part of my story. Everywhere I go. From New York to Rome to Indianapolis…a hot espresso is the period on a wonderful day. It reminds me of travel and family and friends. As I hold the tiny cup, the moments of the day roll by in my mind; I hold with wonder all of the feelings of the day…joy, sadness, fear, excitement, peace. In just a few sips, I take in the day and feel big and small altogether.
I don’t know where tomorrow will take me. I don’t know who will brush into my life. I don’t know everything about your life, your story, but I know it’s as wild and beautiful as everyone else’s. I know that we will do well to honor the incredible stories that we each hold.
Sonder is just so beautiful.