Emotions that don’t have a name

Yesterday my friend Sheri emailed a link to the Tumblr blog of John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which he describes as  “a compendium of invented words” that “aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.”

One of the words he features is “sonder“:

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… Read More

Chasing lights
See bottom of post for photo credit

I was immediately taken back to a moment in my childhood—I’m not sure exactly when, but I had to have been younger than nine because there were only four of us in the car, which means my youngest brother had not yet been born. My father was in his usual driver’s seat, wearing his go-to-town felt cowboy hat. My mother sat quietly in the passenger seat beside him, holding her purse. My brother and I were in the back.

We lived 30 miles from town. This was long before the era of portable entertainment and earbuds, so I spent a lot of time staring out the window. The population of the county where I grew up is only 6 people per square mile. We met few cars. Perhaps for that reason, on this particular trip to town that I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday, I realized for the first time that the people in those cars had lives entirely separate from my own yet as real and important to them as mine was to me. After that split second when our paths crossed, our lives went on as if in separate universes. How could that be? I remember trying to follow that train of thought, to follow the people in my mind for as far as I could see them and to hold on to their lives as well as my own, but it was too big to hold on to for long.

The idea, though, was powerful and universal. And now I have a word for it: sonder.

Do you have a particular memory of experiencing sonder?

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Photo of car by 6ril via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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