Everyone has their own story to tell. Let me start with mine.
\When I first came to Lehigh last fall, I was trapped in my own world. I was overwhelmed with the amount of work suddenly thrust upon me and with an entirely new social environment to take part in.
To put it simply, I was drowning in the pressure. I didn’t know what to do with myself and so I did what anyone would do. I called my mom. Her response?
“Take your time, with everything.”
She was completely right. All semester I had been struggling under my workload, but those simple words lifted me up and set me on the right track.
I realized there might be others just like me, each living their own unique life separate from the rest of the world. When you first become aware of this fact, you’re experiencing what is called sonder.
Think of a normal, everyday trip down to the mail center. You walk there by yourself, you think about what you ordered, you pick up your package and you leave. Fairly standard stuff, right?
What you might not think about are all the people who pass you by. They aren’t just extras in your play — each and every one of them has their own unique problems, sources of happiness and stressors.
You might see someone running to the bus and brush it off as nothing, but catching that bus is the most important thing in the world to them. If they don’t, they miss a crucial exam. You might hear someone talking about relationship troubles and continue walking while their entire day revolves around voicing their grievances. You might even hear someone laughing and simply smile at them, never knowing what it was that made them so happy.
Let me tell you about my own experience with sonder. Walking to class during the past week and a half, I saw many freshmen around campus. At least, I assumed they were freshmen by their brightly colored gym bags with “Lehigh” written across the back.
Seeing all of them made me think of myself just one short year ago. I decided I wanted to pay more attention and see if they were going through anything I did last fall.
One story stood out to me in particular. Last week I witnessed someone who, on their first day of college, had arrived to every one of their classes an hour late. They were on the phone with their parents, lamenting that they were embarrassed and had messed up their first day. I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but I could tell they were on the verge of tears before finally being calmed down.
I continued walking, but this left a lasting impression on me. While I was just going through the motions of another school year, others around me were struggling to collect themselves. It reminded me of my own experience exactly one year prior.
I don’t want it to seem like I’m preaching to you or standing up on my soapbox while I talk down to you. That’s why I’m using this space to tell these stories, to explore these people.
Occasionally I’ll sit down and talk with someone I’ve never met to give them a chance to tell their own side. This campus has a collection of stories and lives as interesting as my own just waiting to be shared.
There is merit in sitting down and watching life happen around you as someone else’s extra. I look forward to taking my time with it.
John Lindenau, ’20, is an associate sports editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org