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Photo by Christian Lunde on Unsplash

Sonder. Noun. The realization that each random passerby is living a life as rich and complex — vivid with ambition, friends, worries, love, and craziness — as your own.

Sonder has quite a few meanings depending the language you look up. In French, it’s to probe. German, literally set apart. German also has the word sonderling, which means somebody set apart with a mind of their own. There seems to be tons of history in this one word that is evolving to mean that every single stranger you pass by has as complex as a life as you.

Of course, we all know every passerby is living their own life. It’s just one of those subconscious thoughts you always have. Sonder, though, is having that sharp realization that, hey, that person might also have a dog that she’s thinking about snuggling when she gets home. That man may be on his way to pick up his child from a friend’s house. That woman probably worries about her credit card bills like I do. Perhaps that man, instead of wondering about the lives of strangers, is inwardly freaking out about proposing to his boyfriend later tonight.

I was first reminded of the word when my sister and I spent a couple of hours at the emergency vet for our cat. Chase the kitty is fine, thank goodness, but there were other families there for all sorts of reasons.

There was a young girl crying in her teary-eyed mother’s arms, and we know that she’ll be going back to school this year without having her furry friend greet her when she comes home at the end of the day. There was an older couple with a cat singing in his carrier while his leg was bound in a cast. A gentleman brought in his fluffy dog who wiggled her entire body in greeting to everyone else who passed by.

The vet tech who took our cat for his initial check-up got pee on her shoe — judging by how harried the staff seemed yesterday, I wonder if she remembered about it when she got off shift. There was another vet tech who had the displeasure of handing a couple a box and saying, “I’m sorry.” Her voice was monotone — she’s either said the same too often or her mind was on the possibility of preventing the need to say it to another family later.

My sister and I were waiting for about an hour after we saw the actual vet, for Chase to be done with his tests and for his medications, and I just couldn’t help but wonder about the different people we saw. The word sonder popped up into my head again, a word that I’ve seen around on the internet due to my interests in books and writing and words in general. Writing-wise, it’s something that I always tried to keep in mind for every character — no matter how minor — I add to my stories.

After all, we writers take our inspiration from life, right?

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