The poignancy of sonder.

This one’s going to be quite introspective: buckle up.


If I asked you to estimate the number of people you meet or come across every day, could you do it? Probably not, at least not precisely. The people you come across in one day, by night are nothing but a blur in your memory. You don’t pay them much mind, and they don’t pay you any either.

Now consider this:

It’s a trembling thought when you put it in perspective. Coined by John Koenig, in his ‘Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows‘, in which he details and defines feelings that haven’t got defined yet. This is my favorite one, but that doesn’t mean the other ones aren’t jaw dropping, either.

What does it mean? We all will look at it in different, yet unique ways. One thing is certain, though: it sure is thought-provoking. It induces a feeling of insignificance, of feeling average.

Whether you live in a huge, impersonal city or the tranquil countryside, odds are you will meet people that remain exactly that: people you once met. A distant memory, a humblingly small portion of your life. That’s the basis on which this word, sonder was formed. It’s poignant.

Life gets chaotic. Sometimes. You make new friends and you lose some. You travel and you meet others, many which you don’t keep in touch with. They continue on, and you do too. We call them ‘extras’.

Every choice you made at this time came upon by your own volition; your initiative to travel made you meet a certain set of people, that profoundly altered you, whether you recognize it or not. In doing so, you left a mark on other people’s lives just as much as you did on your own. You became the extra. The random passerby, one with a story to tell. You contributed to their life in the process, and they did to yours.

Attachment can be a funny thing. We generally tend to get attached to people, places, and things. In the process of your journey as the ‘main’ protagonist of your own story, you sometimes get attached to the ‘extras’ of your life, those that you’ll only see once in your lifetime. This is human but interesting to note. In many journeys, you will come across those who will have a tale to tell, knowledge to impart and burdens to dissipate. Think about being in a foreign land, for example. You visit a store, buy a souvenir and you’ve returned home. In the process, you’ve become an extra in the life of that shopkeeper, and she’s become one in yours.

Zack Hemsey, one of my favorite musicians is a well-known composer/rapper/singer who has done scores for numerous films. Most particularly, it was his recent album, ‘Nomad‘ that drew my attention. In this album, there is a song titled ‘The Runner’ in which he chronicles the life of a man running from his past and traveling around the world.

Here’s an extract from the song:

Living to him was a mission devoid of objective in mind
He’d move at the drop of a dime with no thinking or questioning why
Never developed attachment to things all would get left behind
This was the method that patterned his ways
Perpetual motion without any reins
No repercussions, no piper to pay
No obligation to come into play
Nothing to weigh
No one to sway
No inhibition or stress to allay

In this song lies the curious tale of a man who ‘never developed an attachment to things’. It seems to defy human nature, but it is a true depiction of travelers, those whose trade is to traverse the world, to meet new people and discover new places. While it may seem like a tragedy that these people never build any sustainable relationships, it may also be liberating, free of the shackles that relationships burden you with. The entire album is great, and Zack’s ability to story tell within his music is probably his strongest suit. Check out the entire album here. A few notable tracks are ‘Lesson from a Nomad’, ‘Pursuit of Knowledge’ and ‘The Runner’.

While it may be a little depressing to contemplate, ponder over how there are so many people you will never get a chance to interact with, think about it this way:

You have something special that you and only you bring to this world. If you don’t share your gifts with the world, you aren’t the only one missing out, everyone else is too. So remember, when you come across the ‘extras’ or the supporting cast of your main story, sonder a little. You have impacted lives in your little interactions, and have left a ripple in the history of civilization, something that was unique to you.

So wherever you are, whoever you are, I’m glad you’re out there.
And as always,
Thanks for reading.

One thought on “The poignancy of sonder.

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