Sonder

I watched the landscape change as I flew over America. The rolling Appalachian foothills gave way to the quilted Central plains, which crumpled up into the Rockies. I passed over the martian deserts of southern Utah where I could see the way ancient rivers had carved out the land. Just past Yosemite was the San Francisco Bay,  interrupted by the hives of the City and glittering in the dying light. 

Grandiose though flying is, you’re reading only two pages of an infinite book. The inbetween is just as good. You’re cheating when you skip over it all. If you can take your time, you ought to.

There are 3,000 miles worth of life to live between Atlanta and San Francisco. You’ll pass by thousands upon thousands of people who are just as consumed by all the simple glories and trivialities of life as you are. It’s one of my favorite words in the English language – sonder. Every life is equally vivid and intricate. It’s never as apparent as it is on a plane, when each traveller is leaving something behind and pursuing something on the other side, but there’s something to be said for the understated poetry of passing by windows in the nighttime, each illuminated with the complex life of a stranger.

There’s an algorithm with which scientists can calculate the number of habitable planets in the universe. Planets that are not too close to nor far from their sun, that could have water, that could be capable of producing the kind of primordial soup from which life springs. You could apply this same logic to friends and lovers; everywhere you go, there is bound to be somebody with whom you can harvest a meaningful relationship, even if that lasts for five fleeting minutes. I have dozens of stories about five-minute friends and I’ve only seen a minuscule fraction of what the world has to offer.

My first time in San Francisco I took the bus too far, and when I finally met with the people I’d intended at Golden Gate Park, all the buses going back were full and all the cabs were occupied. An old man in an SUV screeched to a stop at the bus stop and, like a fast-tongued auctioneer, offered us a ride “Anywhere you wanna go in the city, 20 bucks, take it or leave it, this train is leaving! I’ll take eight of you!” So eight of us, five of whom we’d just met at the bus stop, piled in. He tore maniacally through the streets and reminisced about his days as a stunt driver for the 1968 movie “Bullitt.” We ended up at a costume party on Haight street, me and a dozen strangers whose names and faces I do not remember. All because I took the bus too far.

Every choice and every mistake you make opens up a whole world of possibilities. It might be a dead battery in the parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly in Mississippi or a harmonica song from a homeless man on the train car you decided to occupy. Actively pursuing the unexpected is invigorating for that reason – you’re forced to interact with people you’d otherwise never cross paths with and you’ll inevitably contend with situations that put you far outside of your comfort zone. Kurt Vonnegut says it best – “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

If I were a more responsible person, I would graduate college and find a job for which I’m overqualified and write half-assedly from the comfort of a familiar life. It would doubtless be the financially and logistically responsible decision, but marinating in concrete can’t lead to greener pastures. So I’ve chosen to be irresponsible and see the landscapes I marvelled at from 30,000 feet. And when I’m a frail ailing arthritic pile of bones waiting for death in a nursing home that smells like old leather and Windex, my regrets will begin at whichever point in life I decide that plush bank accounts are a more attractive prospect than Elsewhere.

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