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The realization that each passerby has a life as complex as one's own.
On my daily route that I take to work, there is this small bridge that curves over a railroad track. It is in the busy part of the town and the cars are at slow speeds. One day as I drove over the first half of the bridge and went over to the other side. I noticed a man standing on the side walk.
He looked at me, smiled and waved.
Back when I used to live in rural Iowa, if you were driving through the town and you saw someone crossing the road or you were at a stop sign. It was customary to wave to them from the car even if you didn’t know the person. It was an unwritten rule. Acknowledging each other with a nod saying, “I see you and I won’t trample you with my car”. But here in urban Delaware, the rules are different. There is no acknowledgement. So when I saw this guy waving at me, I was surprised.
Before I could wave back or even process the situation. He turned his head to the other side of the bridge and looked at the car coming from the other direction and waved. As he went into my rear view mirror, I saw him handing out a wave and his toothless smile to each passing car.
He was short guy probably in his 60s, wrinkly skin and clean shaven face. He was wearing ragged jeans and t-shirt with his white hair peeking from his baseball cap. His bicycle resting against the wall of the bridge with a bag attached to the handlebar.
My first thought of this guy was that he was homeless, hoping someone would stop by and offer some change. But he didn’t have a sign soliciting money. Also, the the bridge was small and cars were never going to stop at that spot.
He was just there waving and smiling at the passing cars.
Even though the interaction barely lasted for 10 seconds. The act of waving created a temporary connection. We shared a storyline for those 10 seconds. Beyond that, he probably has a complex life, his friends, family, his work, his motivations to spend time on the bridge and wave at cars.
Reminds me of the term sonder.
Sonder is a term used to describe the realization that each passerby has a life as complex as one's own, with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness. It is the profound feeling of realizing how small you are in the world, and how vast it is.
Over the last year, I have seen him pop up randomly with no rhyme or reason. My co-workers know of the guy on the bridge but no one knows his story. I’ve seen people honk at him but he is unfazed and moves onto the next car. He doesn’t wait for people to wave back. He is in his own complex world, smiling and waving on the bridge.
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