There is this photograph of me as a young child. It's one of my favourites. It's nothing special. It holds no significant meaning. Many of you may not even think it is good.
I would imagine that when my parents picked up the developed film from the store they would have discounted this photograph as a bad shot. It would not be picked to go in a frame or a photo album, because standing behind me there is an old man looking over the pool deck below, a man which none of my family has ever known. But I cherished this photograph because I've always been curious of who he was.
We all have photos like this with random strangers' arms or faces lurking somewhere in the background, spoiling the image we were trying to capture.
Find a photograph like this of your own and look at that person. Try to imagine who they were, where they lived, what they were doing and who they were with.
Now, imagine in how many photographs you play an extra in someone else’s story.
Behind every stranger is story as vivid and complex as our own.
I had been struggling with a way to explain this idea when I discovered a word from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.
"Sonder: an epic story that continues invisibly around you... 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 tried to explain this on my own but I think this description is so beautiful and perfect.
Think of all the people you cross paths with in one day. Sitting on the bus or waiting in line for coffee. You may only hear the sounds of their footsteps walking down a hallway, hear their voice from the table behind you in a restaurant, or watch them sleeping in the seat next to you on an airplane.
Imagine how many interesting lives are being lived all around us, the infinite number of people who are experiencing infinitely different lives.
In the busiest of places I catch myself sondering, wondering if the faces around me will reappear in my story ever again.