People Live: Feelings of Sonder

Sundays. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and I’m packing my bag: journals, red and black pens, and my laptop. I’m off to the next station over in search of a new cafe, a new place, anywhere to feed and nurture my inspiration. I love my apartment. It’s tall white walls and second floor view grant me more headspace than my previous spot. Yet sometimes you can only nurture an idea but so much in the same place. It was time to find a new place to create. And now that my finances were a bit more stable, splurging on a weekend coffee wouldn’t hurt.

The view from my lofty bed. Walls are pretty high for a Japanese apartment.

The view from my lofty bed. Walls are pretty high for a Japanese apartment.

I hung up the wash on the balcony, grabbed my bookbag and took a step out into the breezy spring air. In that very instant my head expanded to fill the space around me. I was in that environment and apart of it. The suburbs of NishiTokyo. Simultaneously I was detached from it. My innermost thoughts forming into subjective observations of the world around me. A mysterious feeling, to say the least.

I walked and walked; and walked some more. Past tiny ancient homes that seemed to have been standing for over 6 decades. Past fresh apartment complexes with balconies all facing south to catch the most of the drying sun. Through streets so narrow, they shouldn’t have been the major thoroughfares that they were. And down wide paths, with huge heads of cabbage on either side of me.

Beyond what I observed in the scenery around me, I began to see more. Ways of living, life styles, people living in these environments. Parents in bicycles with kids in baby seats. The elderly playing Go in the park. Gardeners tending to community gardens. It was at that point that I snapped out of my own headspace and realized, “Hey, People are alive!”

Often I feel like most of use live in our own mental space. We tell ourselves the same story.

I am I.

I like my coffee black.

I listen to Flying Lotus.

I’m black, or brown, maybe?

I love pizza.

I don’t like when people walk slow when I’m rushing to the last train.

I need ketchup for these fries, and you give me this small packet??

Do you know who I am?

Who I will be?

I am the Protagonist!

Yes, I am the protagonist of this story I continually tell myself. Yet on that walk I realized that the people, houses, and storefronts in the background weren’t just extra set pieces in my Japan saga; they were entirely different stories themselves. And each and every person I passed was living an entirely different adventure. Each with their own story to tell, and future tales to be told.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows calls the feeling I had (and have so often in Japan), sonder. The people around me aren’t simply sophisticated holograms (though that could be up for debate). They have life and just as many things of importance in their existence as you or me. I know we all believe this to be true, but we often fail to realize it in daily human interaction. I think it’s about time we step our empathy up.

Go take a walk.


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