I have the privilege this week of spending time with Bishop Ken Myers, along with several other priests, for a retreat at his home in Texas. As I was flying to Dallas today, looking out over the landscape 38,000 feet below me, I was reminded of the preciousness of life. As you look below from above the clouds you are passing over countless people with lives of their own, with their own sets of joys and heartaches, successes and failures, victories and defeats.
There's an amazing word for this realization of the fullness of life in those you encounter in life; it is the word sonder. A blog called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows provides a beautiful definition of this concept:
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—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
There is a wealth of life taking place around us each and every day, and God considers each of those lives of irreplaceable value and worth. It's mind-boggling when you really get down to it, but so important for us as disciples of Christ to recognize. God gives us brief moments where the journey of our soul brushes up against the journey of other souls. Sometimes those journeys last for decades, as with close friends and family; other times that journey lasts for a mere glance, a chance word, or a compassionate smile.
In the myriad millennia of humanity's existence, though, even our own lifetimes are but a fleeting flicker or ripple in the stream of time that has passed and will continue to pass after our earthly journeys cease. But these fleeting moments are precious; we can never regain them once they are passed and we never know how the journey of our soul with another (if even for a moment) can encourage, bolster, and enliven the soul of another.
May we be willing to embrace sonder and allow ourselves to see beyond our own stories and to consider the stories of the other people God has ordained to pass through our lives. May we cherish the moments we are given, weeping with those who are weeping, laughing with those who are laughing, and enjoying the complexity of interwoven lives that are all cherished by our heavenly Father... and may we cherish each life also.
(as published in St. Luke's weekly email newsletter, 4/2/19)