I learned a new word this week. You won’t find it in your trusty Webster, yet it exists and it is real. It has meaning. And, it has impact. At least for me.
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.
Every day after dropping my daughter off at school I drive down a street to avert the traffic on a main thoroughfare between her school and our house. I have to go through a myriad of stop signs. I don’t mind though, as it takes me through a neighborhood where both single-family homes and small apartment buildings coexist. I like driving down this street. There are always people out walking their dogs, or on their bikes headed to the office, or walking to their cars to do the same.
There’s one apartment on a corner that I have a particular fancy to. It’s a mid-century designed building. You can tell it’s wasn’t redeveloped to look like mid-century, but actually was built in the mid-century. It has that 1960s feel to it – very “Brady Bunch”. The bottom floor apartment has two large windows which meet on a corner. You don’t see that kind of design anymore. My guess is it’s not as structurally sound as most building need to be today. There is a carefully landscaped palm plant large enough to give some semblance of privacy. You can still see in however and I’m sure it affords the resident a great deal of natural light.
I’ve passed by this apartment many times. Each time I sit at a stop sign waiting for cross traffic to clear I look over. I’ve seen a man engaged in various activities in his home. One time he was at his kitchen table working intently on his laptop. Another time he was bustling around his kitchen as if cooking a meal. I’ve seen him grabbing something on his coffee table moving around as if he were gathering things ready to leave his house. It’s fascinating. Actions so simple. Actions we all take. Yet, there’s a mystique about seeing someone do things who you don’t know, around a house that’s unfamiliar. I can see how he has decorated. His choice of furniture modern. His walls colorful. There’s an allure to seeing someone live their life. Especially when that person has no idea his life being lived is being seen.
While I will never be more than a casual passerby who gets a glimpse into a random apartment. I drive away and think about who he is and where he’s going. I’m entranced with my thoughts about a stranger’s story. I see in my head a life lived, which is just like mine in many ways. I’m reminded every day driving by this one apartment that each of us has a story. Each of us experience all parts of life. Moments that bring us joy, sorrow, passion, laughter, love, and even the doldrums we sometimes experience. Everyone has a story.
To be able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and consider how their story relates to my own is a universal gift.