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.
I came across that (apparently) made up word several years ago, and it’s eerie how the meaning of that word still resonates deeply with what I’m doing right now.
As I am writing this, I’m not in my little corner watching the trees or gazing at the clouds. I’m currently sitting in the smoking area of my office building. Looking rude, because I’m typing on my phone, and my friend is in front of me talking about how much she hates that long-haired guy from the third floor. I can faintly hear the stranger next to me talking about how anxious he is since he’s meeting his girlfriend’s parents this weekend. It’s crazy how complex a human being is, and how their complexity is just a background in your life, vice versa.
I went skateboarding the other day, as usual, but something happened. My friend told me that a woman in her fifties stopped her when she arrived at a bus station earlier that day. Then, she started to muse about her longboard, and how awesome she looked with it hanging on her shoulder. It turned out that the woman used to try skateboarding back when she was thirteen. She did a trick and broke her arm, and she had to wear an orthopedic cast for two months. So, meeting my friend was probably like a time travel for her. It probably felt like she was meeting her teenage self. I laughed at that story as we cruised along the main roads of Jakarta (we were heading from Sudirman to HI). After we arrived near Bundaran HI, I had a moment of panic because there were lots of people surrounding the fountain (and if you know me, you know how hard it is for me to function in the middle of a crowd). I tried to stay calm and watch people without panic.
I usually watch people from a far. Either from behind a glass, from a motorcycle, from a car, or directly but in a small crowd. The only time I watch people by being in the middle of a crowd is when I went to music festivals, that’s it, and it wasn’t that interesting because most of them were kind of monotonous. I decided to slow down my cruising pace and look around. I was actually looking for a booth that my friend set up for donation, but I couldn’t find it. So, I decided to just do the usual thing that I do, watching people. It is fascinating to think how much we can learn about people just by stopping to observe. There were lots of people from different backgrounds, hobbies, ambitions, and even purpose of going to that weekly road closedown.
As we were cruising around in the crowd, a group of teenage girls came to us and ask to be photographed with us. I found it weird, but then my friend told me that it’s pretty common to be asked for photograph when you look different. Mind you, I was wearing my helmet that day. So, no shiny purple hair. But yeah, probably because the three of us were all geared up and carrying giant boards. That was an experience.
Back to the sonder part. That day, while I was standing in the middle of that crowd, I thought to myself that it’s just so crazy if I could hear everyone’s thoughts right now. These people, with their happy faces, some of them were probably bored to death or just extremely sad. Maybe they were there to entertain themselves from a family issue or work related issues or school or a teenage broken heart. These people know other people who also tell them stories about the complexities of their own life. Maybe those girls who came to us were on a mission to become something. All of them have their own dreams, have their own fears, and for some reason our paths crossed, and probably we made them happy just by willing to be photographed together. Or that woman who stopped my friend from walking, she probably googled longboarding after that, or maybe she opened her old photo album and reminisce her old skateboarding days. That’s how impactful one’s life could be to their surroundings.
“Elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed”
Even now that I’m sitting next to at least 50 strangers in the smoking area I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about how complex my own issues are, and their probably even more complex issues. I might probably never meet any of these people tomorrow or the next day or the next one thousand years, but it’s just bizarre how our paths crossed just by sitting next to each other sharing cigarette smoke and an open space.
And it’s beautiful to think that one day, we might come across another person and as we get to know them we realise that we’ve actually met many moons ago. One of these strangers that we meet in our day to day life could actually be a part of your life years from now.
It’s beautiful how behind all these lighted buildings live million soul who’s there temporarily, and they’ll come back to their own home bringing new stories every day. New memories. New knowledge to learn. New things to reminisce about. There is something beautiful about all these liminal spaces that I visit every day; from my little corner to the gas station to the convenience store to that famous intersection near my office building. There is always something to muse about these random faces and places that I meet every day. Like that stern looking woman who was driving a car next to the ojek that I was riding, or that guy with cute mint Vespa and a matching jacket that I meet every 8.47 near Karet, or that man who’s always sleeping on the corner of the street near my building. The warung next to his bed was closed down this morning, I saw no debris whatsoever, I didn’t even see him sleeping there. Where did he go?
I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. It’s just crazy how his presence there every morning before today has become a part of my life, and seeing him away from my sight is very unusual.
It’s crazy how without you even knowing, there’s a person out there who feels like you’re a part of their life just because of small things that you do. You might be always sipping your tea in the corner of that same café, or sleeping on the same corner of the street. You might be just a shadow figure that can be watched from a distance, but when you’re not there, someone is going to miss your presence in their life.
Watching people is like watching cars come and go on a busy street. Watching people is like watching city lights starting to dim as the night grows darker. Watching people is magical because you’ll never know when your paths are going to cross again.