Sonder: 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
Have you ever wondered about the stories the people you walk by have lived or are living? Even before I stumbled across this word, Sonder, I would watch and wonder, what the person sitting across from me or passing me by was thinking or was going through? I would come up with elaborate stories, sometimes far-reaching, at times fantastical.
Everyday, I leave early in the morning to drop off my son at his school. I take a metro and a tram to get to our destination and walk on my way back home after dropping him off. I observe so many people during my journey. Fellow parents dropping off their offspring, passengers on the metro who give up their seats for us, people walking past us on their way to work, some out for their morning exercise jogging or speed walking or cycling… Sometimes I come across people with whom I connect instantly, a warm smile or an eye contact that makes me feel like we are sharing some inside joke or a hurried “Hello!” or “Szia!”, “Good Morning!” or “Jo Napot!”. The way people acknowledge others, even when they are rushed, even though we are sure we would never see each other again, its fascinating to me. We greet one another, we acknowledge their existence, we appreciate the beautiful day and leave smiles on our way and I am honored whenever someone takes the time, from whatever they are going through, to lift their head and look me in the eye and acknowledge me, wish for me to have a great day! And I wonder what stories would they tell me, if I ever had the courage to speak with them? But because I am not brave enough to approach complete strangers, I make up stories about them in my head. I am going to write down the ones I love the most, it doesn’t matter how many people read them, how many like them or how many hate them. These stories are special to me and I just want to share them.
Friday 31st August – Resilient Georgia
The day begins with the three of us getting ready to visit our Agastya’s school for orientation day. Around 20 things are on my mind while we race down to the metro station to catch the train so that we aren’t later than usual. “What would his new teachers be like? Would he like his new class? How would he adjust to his new surroundings? Would he make new friends? What extra curricular activities would we be able to afford this year? How do I make everything work in this month’s budget? When will I get a job?” (That is always the last question on my list of questions, the one thing that is constantly on my mind.) So, as I run down the platform of Metro Number 3, while holding my son’s tiny hand, I see this woman waiting for the train. Head held high, thin, with high cheekbones and startling blue eyes. She was wearing a pink shirt and white dress pants, high heels and lots of makeup. Anyone who saw her would know that she was proud and strong. She glanced our way, looked at Agastya, and her weary face transformed with a warm smile. When she turned around I noticed that she lacked hair, from the crown to the back of her head, and only had them near her ears, the nape of her neck and on the very top which she had styled as bangs that framed her beautiful face. How important are hair for a woman? It is supposed to be a part of our allure and grace, our charm and personality. We grow it out or cut it short or shave it off. It makes us feel powerful and beautiful. To lose all that hair is incredibly agonizing and I am not just saying that for the sake of vanity. So… I made up a story for her.
A successful business woman, who was always told she wasn’t good enough and would never amount to anything, Georgia made a name for herself in the cutthroat world of advertising. She walked shoulder to shoulder among men in an industry dominated by men. She would wear pink and beige and white and greys, adorn herself with simple pearl necklaces and delicate diamond earrings, soft colors and jewelry that would distract people from the bad-ass woman that she was underneath and rip her opponents to shreds with her manicured fingers. Some described her as power hungry, overly ambitious, a hard-ass and egotistical. She called herself a woman at the top of her game. So when she was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer, she decided that if the ruthless world of business couldn’t take her down, then she won’t let double mastectomy do that to her as well. Even though now sitting through board meetings was becoming more distressing, because sometimes she would have to excuse herself due to chemotherapy induced nausea and the effects of her medicines were clearly showing on her body, she was okay, she told herself… She was fine… If not now, then with time she will be fine! And it was on one of those days, when she had to go visit her doctor for her weekly chemo sessions and when that last clump of hair from the back of her head came off right into the palm of her hands, she found herself at the platform of Metro Number 3, watching a little boy dragging away his harried looking mother. She couldn’t help but smile at him, because it brought a little warmth into her rather dreary day, and she reminded herself that there is still hope, there is still a future for her. That tomorrow will come again and she would wake up in the morning, focused on getting better, because she will not let this disease win. Because she is not a loser!
I hope and pray that the woman I saw that day, who smiled so kindly at Agastya, is not suffering in any way and her hair loss is not due to this wretched disease and whatever shadows I saw in her warm tired eyes were not because she was sick. I hope and pray, that if she is suffering, then she fights whatever it is and wins. Because I saw grit and resilience in her, thin and weak yet standing on her own two feet, and it made me believe in the insurmountable strength of the human mind and body.