Quite a few months ago, I was driving down George Bush Drive, jamming out rather loudly and singing at the top of my lungs, my arm hanging out the window and feeling the wind press against my face (This exact scenario has replicated itself many times since this specific occurrence, but that’s how this story will start out). The day was a beautiful one—the sun flying high and giving off a nice, radiant heat, the piercing blue sky dotted with white, puffy clouds, and the saturated green pastures of the Texas A&M Golf Course seemingly glowing in vivacity as I passed them by—and on top of that, I was in a great mood. I can’t remember what song I was singing or where the drive would lead me, but I do remember this: it was a good day. I was happy, I was stress-free, and I was having a grand old time being David Lee Tate, Jr.
Off to my left, running in the same direction as my truck was driving, I saw a runner—a girl, probably just a few years older than myself. Jogging slowly but steadily, she made her way up the slight incline that the sidewalk found itself placed upon, maintaining a steady stride as she leaned a bit forward and used her calves to push her body up the incline, then straightening back up into a regular running posture as the street leveled itself out. Since I myself am a runner, I’m constantly noticing these things. I’m always analyzing people, trying to figure out more and more about them, even if it’s just about running and how fast they might be. How fast is their pace? Do they look out of breath? How good is their running form? These are the types of questions I ask myself whenever I see another runner, and with each person, I catch different things: a little too much jump with each stride, perhaps too much speed with each cycle, or maybe even too heavy breathing given their pace. I’m always watching, always analyzing, always wondering. And as I watched this girl, it was no different—I watched her running form, I watched her pace, I watched her motion. She wasn’t going fast, but she wasn’t going slow. She didn’t seem to be straining herself or breathing hard, but instead looked comfortable at her pace. Sure, she bounced a bit much with the run, but that could be attributed to the slower pace. Nothing of much significance to see.
…but then I saw her stop at the intersection of George Bush and Texas Avenue, touch a tree as a checkpoint, turn around, and run back in the direction from which she had come.
At that moment, my mind was blown. I shut the music off and watched in stunned silence, staring in wonder as the girl made her way back down George Bush, keeping her eyes trained on the ground and building back up to the pace she had previously been holding. As I rolled to a stop at the red light before me, I sat there and thought pensively, watching her in my rearview mirror, her reflection getting smaller and smaller with each passing second. Running, running, running, back from where she’d come.
She was going somewhere.
She had a destination in mind.
That intersection had been her turnaround point.
How often do we fail to see things like this? I drive past runners each and every day, yet after a moment’s glance, I move on and never give them a second thought. Each day, I pass by people while I’m walking to class, and sure, I might smile and wave, but then I go on without ever thinking about them. I have my own destination in mind, but I never consider the fact that, even though these people might be fleeting memories in the very back of my mind, each and every one of them live a life just as vivid and complex as my own. For that girl running down George Bush, I was just a truck passing by; maybe she didn’t even notice me. For those people I pass by while I’m walking to class, they have their own class to go to, their own lunch to go buy, their own adviser to go speak with. They might see me and they might wave back, but we fail to make that connection. This world is filled with billions of people, yet we live our lives as if we are the only true people out there. We have immersed ourselves into our own little "Truman Show," where people pass by and do things in the background, but in reality, we tell ourselves that the show revolves around us. There are main characters, there are recurring characters, and there are even cameos, but ultimately, in our own minds, we are the main characters of that show.
These are the things I thought of as I watched that girl run away. All it had taken was to see her stop, touch a tree, and turn around, because how many times had I myself done that same thing? When we see people running, we never consider the fact that they, like us, have a turnaround a point, a stopping point. Sometimes they need to stretch, sometimes they need to stop for water. They aren’t just runners who go on running forever and ever, but our minds don’t process that because we are too busy—too caught up in our own infinitely complex worlds—to “waste our time” considering the things that other people face. It’s not necessarily a selfish action, but rather a rational one given the way our bodies and minds are wired. We see first-person from our minds and our minds alone, so often we fail to realize that whenever we look someone in the eye, there is someone looking right back at us. They aren’t just some hollow frame that will cease to exist once they are out of your frame of sight. They keep on moving, keep on doing, keep on living…with or without you.
There’s two natural responses to this sudden realization, and I find both of them equally intriguing and, admittedly, disturbing. The first response is a feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach, a feeling of smallness. A voice whispers in your head, making you realize that despite all that you think, you’re just one person out of over 7 billion people, and each of them are living their own lives, independent of you. Sure, if something happened to you, it would affect a few people, but in the grand scheme of things, most people would go on living their everyday lives as if nothing had happened, quite possibly without knowing you ever existed. Here you are, living a life from your point of view, where every single thing that happens to you seems like the most important thing in the world at that moment, yet in reality, it’s something small. Each family member you lose, every breakup you endure—they hurt you, they pain you, they make you scream in agony…but the world will never know. You’re but a blip on the radar, a star in the sky, a fish in the sea. Everything will suddenly seem meaningless, like chasing after the wind.
The second response is one of compassion. Once you have that moment of realization (and, fun fact, the proper term for this realization is “sonder”), you will suddenly look at every person with a whole new light. As you find yourself sitting at a stoplight, you will see that driver sitting next to you and you’ll wonder what’s going on in her mind. You’ll see her lower her mirror and begin to adjust her makeup, and you’ll wonder where she’s going, who she’s going to see. Then you’ll see that she’s applying the makeup to cover up her tears, and your heart will clench inside, and you’ll feel a burning passion as you wonder who could so brazenly hurt such a person…who could cause her to cry? You’ll pull through McDonald’s and experience an employee with a foul attitude, but suddenly, instead of getting angry, you’ll ask yourself why? What put him in that position? You’ll see the class clown joking around in class and you’ll ask yourself if he is hiding some inner darkness deep down inside, or if perhaps he has managed to unlock some inner happiness that you yourself have been unable to achieve. Every person you see will no longer be a person passing by in your life and then ceasing to exist, but a fully-realized, fully-characterized protagonist who has their own story, their own thoughts, their own lives. Everything will change.
These are the two responses you will have to this sonder, and, as I said before, each response is both captivating yet alarming, enchanting yet unsettling. But, the good news is that I have a new perspective for you, and it should help put your mind at ease.
In regards to the first response, I want you to know that though you may be small, that isn’t a bad thing! Size doesn’t matter, so who cares if you’re but one fish in a sea of other fish? The truth lies in the fact that you are unique—you are your own person, with your own thoughts, your own breath, your own desires. Though there are billions of other humans on this earth, you alone have followed the exact string of events that led you to the very moment at which you currently exist, and you alone will go on living through your own set of circumstances and complexities. You lead your own future, and you, despite being one of many, can make a difference in the world.
On top of this, remember that there is something bigger out there. Yes, we are but grains of sand on a seashore, but remember that someone created that sand! There is a power at play in this world—a God of both heaven and earth—and not only does He sovereignly reign over all things, but He—the most powerful being in the entire universe—made you personally. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by the Creator of all things, the One who is both the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning in the End. If you were unimportant, then why would He have gone through the trouble of making such a unique “you” in the first place? “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does,” (Psalm 135:6), so take comfort in that! Not only did He go out of His way to create you, but He took pleasure in doing so! “We are the clay, and [He] our potter, and all of us are the work of [His] hand” (Isaiah 64:8)—we are pieces of art! To be treasured, loved, and taken care of!
But what about the important things that happen in life? What about whenever a loved one dies, or you have some super-massive breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or you sustain an injury or get severely sick? Are you supposed to merely shrug these off as unimportant since there are billions of other people experiencing the same heartache, the same pain, the same failure? The short answer would be “no,” but don’t you worry, I’ll explain. To quote the Casting Crowns, “Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.” As much as we hate to hear it, tough things have to happen in life in order for us to grow, in order for us to learn, in order for us to prosper. God has a plan for each and every one of us, and though we may not understand it at the time, we know this to be true. “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4). God knows your pain, He knows your suffering, He knows your heartache. And believe me, He experiences all those things too! When you cry, the Lord is crying with you; the only difference is that He can see the light at the end of the tunnel, whereas sometimes we cannot. His plans are still to prosper (Jeremiah 29:11), so take heed, my friends. He is looking out for you, and He will until the end.
In regards to the second response, I have a much quicker and straightforward answer: embrace it. Whenever you find yourself looking out into the world and recognizing the brokenness within those around you, welcome it with open arms! Once again quoting the Casting Crowns, be “broken together”! Show people that you care. “Treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12), because that’s how we experience not only growth on a personal level, but growth throughout the entire world. Care for one another; show compassion. Don’t just look at the pain this world is facing and sit idly by, doing nothing; put on your helmet and join the fight! You never know, you could be the person who stops someone from committing suicide. Your smile could make someone’s bad day get better. Your helping hand could help someone gain the motivation they need to get through something tough. You might be one out of billions, but the love you show others could change the world. Think about the times that you’ve been down in the dumps, the times you’ve been lonely, depressed, stressed, broken…what would you have given for someone to come place a hand on your shoulder and tell you “It’ll be alright?” Be that person. Love those around you and show them the hope that can be found in Jesus. Be the lighthouse amidst the stormy night, casting your light out into the darkness to guide those on shaky vessels in from certain destruction. You have the power to do that, because the Lord has granted it to you.
When you experience that sonder, you can do one of two things: sit by and get glum, or go out and do something to change the world. It goes without saying that I plead you to do the latter. We all have those moments when we realize, “Wow, I’m relatively small in comparison to everything going on around me,” but we often fail to recognize the potential in that realization. Ask God to give you His eyes for just one moment, so that you can look out into the world and see it as He sees it. Then, go out there and love the world as He has loved it since the beginning of time.