(This blog post brought to you by today’s prompt)
Have you ever spent a lot of time with someone (a friend, co-worker, relative) and then suddenly realized you really don’t know them at all? Sometimes this realization can come too late, like after the loss of an elderly relative, or it can come in the nick of time, like when your best friend tells you something that you never knew about them.
The older I get and the more I talk to the people in my life (really talk, the kind of talks that happen in quiet places late at night when words seem to flow easier than they do in the day) the more I realize that everyone has a story full of twists and turns, secrets, struggles, and triumphs that are not obvious to an outside eye. It is completely cliché to say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but it is also completely true. Everyone you see, even those you think you know, has a story. If you don’t believe me check out Humans of New York. Look at the portraits of the people Brandon Stanton photographs on the street, allow yourself to make snap judgements about them based on their appearance, and then read their captions. It can be surprising.
In fact, the idea that every other person in the world (whether you’ve interacted with them or not) is living a life as complex as yours, that they are living, not just existing, simultaneously in unseen stories that may never intersect with yours, is a crazy thing to think about (there is actually a word for this: sonder). Right now, around the world, or even in the building across the street from you, people’s lives are changing in amazing and tragic ways, mundane tasks and once in a lifetime events are happening all around you. The cars beside you on the highway are all driving somewhere for a specific reason, with drivers and passengers having thoughts and conversations you’ll never hear. The apartment building you live in has different stories unfolding behind every numbered door; the lights in the windows all showing a glimpse into lives that are going on constantly as yours does. It can be easy to get caught up in your own life and the troubles you face, but it is reassuring (and equally terrifying) to know that there are stories happening all around you and yours is just a small piece in a puzzle that makes up the complicated but beautiful world we live in.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can never fully know someone unless you’ve gotten into the depths of their story, and maybe even then you won’t really “know” them. Furthermore, you will never be able to fully know the world around you because of the sheer number of things happening all around us, which can be overwhelming, but is better seen as a unlimited amount of stories to read, like a library that is growing with every passing minute. What I’m trying to get at is that we should all take time to talk to someone we think we know (or someone we don’t), ask them how they are (how they really are) and start reading through the stories of the world.
I won’t be posting a “What I’ve Been” this week, so please consider this a “What I’ve Been Thinking About (On and off for the last few years of my life)”.