Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that every person you pass on the street has an inner life as rich as your own?
Every single person is like you in many ways, and yet so beautifully complex and unique, with an immense breadth of feelings, fears, and experiences that have shaped them into who they are.
Every set of hands holding a coffee on your morning commute has wiped tears from a weary face, picked an outfit for an interview or date they hoped would change their life, and held someone else’s hand in a show of support—perhaps someone taking their final breath or bringing life into this world.
Every set of eyes cast downward, to avoid an awkward moment of connection, has witnessed cruelty so dark it terrified them, love so touching it changed them, and beauty so fleeting it reminded them to make the most of their short time on this earth.
And yet despite these universal experiences—the love, the joy, the loss, the pain—we are each a universe unto ourselves.
No one has seen the exact combination of people and events you’ve seen. No one has heard the exact combination of sounds. Of the billions of people in this world, no one has your exact vantage point.
People may have traveled similar roads. People may have made similar choices. And some may carry the same labels—caretaker, artist, HSP, INFJ. But no one has experienced this world in the exact same way you have.
As a writer and an introvert, I probably spend more time than most in solitude. So when I see other people, I often look into them, not at them. Never do I do this more intensely than when I’m flying alone, to visit my family across the country or come back to my boyfriend and life in LA.
In that time between two worlds, everything that defines me in either space strips away. I feel almost as though I’m floating above it all, witnessing the people around me with a pure presence that’s harder to embody when immersed in the roles and responsibilities of everyday life.
I watch the way people move—quickly or slowly, with ease or with strain—and I wonder what fuels their energy or lethargy. If they’re enthusiastic and excited or sick and tired, and why.
I watch the way people interact with the people around them—effortlessly, as if it’s instinctive, or with reservation, as is often the case with me—and I wonder if this reflects their nature or just their state in a moment. Are they open? Are they scared? And why?
When I look closely I notice little things I’d surely miss if I were scrolling through Facebook or learning French through an app on my phone, as I’ve been doing as of late.
I notice people letting others go in front of them, lifting bags for those who are weaker, and making jokes to put anxious travelers at ease. If we’re paying attention we’ll often see these little moments when someone lets their guard down to do something kind and thoughtful for someone else.
We’ll also notice the worst of humanity—people rushing, pushing, condescending, and generally acting without regard for their impact on the people around them.
In that floating space, however, disconnected from my judging mind, I remember I’ve been both of those people. I’ve been giving, thoughtful, and kind, usually when I’ve felt my best about myself and my life. And though I’m loath to admit it, I’ve been thoughtless, rude, and inconsiderate, most often when I’ve been hurting.
It wasn’t because I meant to hurt anyone else. It was because I’d closed myself up into a little scab, where I could hold my pain tightly in my shaking arms, safe in the knowledge it would now be harder for anyone else to hurt me.
We all have our pains. And I’m guessing given the choice, we’d all prefer to be that energetic, open, kind person, moving through life with ease.
But a million and one tiny joys and hurts have led us to where we are in any given moment in time. And though I know we can all make choices about our perspective and attitude, I also know it can be hard.
In the floating space, I understand. I see people as reflections of me. And I feel love. The kind of love that recognizes the infinite diversity and sameness of human experience and makes me feel less alone in this big, sometimes scary world.
But planes take off and touch down, and eventually I’m back in familiar environments, and often a familiar space in my head. It’s hard sometimes to remember to see people with an open mind and heart. But I try. I stumble sometimes, but I remember when I can.
I think we’re all like that.
Everyone has an inner life as rich as our own. Everyone is running toward something and away from something else, holding onto something and struggling to let something else go. Everyone is trying, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. And I believe we’re all doing the best we can in each given moment in time.
You might not agree, and that’s fine. But believing this helps me be the best version of myself more often than not. The chaotic little universe inside me finds calm by understanding the chaos in you. I see you. I get you. I am you. And remembering that brings me peace.