Greetings from test room 2 at the Sleep Disorder Center in Sarasota, Florida! I arrived here last night around 8 and will be settled in until around 6 this evening. To be honest, this room resembles that of a jail cell. No sun light, a simple and dreadfully uncomfortable chair to sit in, and no one to talk to except the nurse who makes her rounds every two hours with the sole purpose of hooking me up to the wall to monitor my next nap. Additionally, my room is fully equipped with cameras and microphones observing my every move!
As I am left with no other options but to sit and ponder all of life’s deepest intricacies, I am reminded of a strange and obscure realization I have often found myself encountering. It is the realization that everyone around me has a complex and elaborate life just as I do. When I pass someone on the road, they too are on their way to a specific destination, they too have family and friends, and they each lead a life tailored specifically to them. This peculiar understanding is referred to as Sonder.
I am frequently reminded that each person around me is unintentionally wearing a mask and I wonder what narrative it would reveal if that mask were removed. Though each version of life would look relatively unique to the individual, it would also reveal a similar thread weaved between each being that would bring us all together in various ways.
The person you stand behind in line at the grocery store could have recently lost a son or daughter. The woman sitting beside you in the doctor’s office waiting room with a screaming baby might be alone because her husband is deployed over-seas defending our freedom. The “jerk” that just cut you off might be running late to a job interview that he really needs to provide for his family. The couple that has a picture perfect marriage on Instagram might be fighting off camera and threatening divorce. The grim reality is we aren’t cognizant of everyone’s unique story, yet they all have one; and the common thread is hurt and pain.
Last week, I was talking to my husband about how this mask affects me day to day as someone who struggles with chronic illness. I may look healthy, but what outsiders didn’t see was the struggle to shower or do my hair and makeup. They didn’t know that I needed to use the restroom but I couldn’t because I was completing a 48-hour test that required a jug which remained at home. They didn’t understand that a simple invite to dinner generated a sudden surge of anxiety over whether I should instantly decline or rest on the hope that I would be able to find something to eat that aligned with my extensive allergy list. They judged me for being in a wheelchair when, for all intents and purposes, I looked healthy. “She must be lazy” is the cruel and judgmental message their eyes conveyed. They didn’t understand the emotional and mental pain I endure on a daily basis when bad news (or no news) comes from the doctors; or the behind the scenes fights with insurance companies and bill collectors that leave you more exhausted than before.
I know I am not alone, so what if we all took a moment to press the pause buttons on our noisy lives, setting aside our own pains and struggles, and allowed ourselves to look behind the masks of those around us. What if we offer compassion when we witness the raw, vulnerable and unedited truth of the strangers and friends alike that we encounter on a daily basis? Could we help someone in their point of anguish? Could we make a difference in a cause bigger than our own little world?
Next time you look around and see people, see more than what meets the eye. Grasp the intricacies of their lives as you would want someone else to do for yours. When you choose to let go of self and rally your energy towards another cause, I guarantee that consequently, you will walk away as having received the benefit!