Welcome back to ‘sonder, essays.’ I hope you enjoy this essay. At the bottom of this essay, I talk about how future issues of my newsletter will include resources and potentially mutual aid or how we as a community can uplift someone who needs it through GoFundMes or other ideas. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
In a Pensacola Barnes & Noble (café area, socially distanced) with a cup of coffee, wireless earphones are dead.
Usually whenever trying to be “productive,” I try to zone in with some lofi or chill music and focus deeply on whatever I’m working on on that given day but this time — my earphones are somehow dead even though I swear I charged them earlier? — I’m beholden to the whims of whoever is DJing the café sound system.
There’s a video on YouTube — any reader under 30 probably knows the “lofi beats to study and chill to” YouTube videos — similar to that type of playlist but this video also has ambient background noise; the noise of that vague, muddled chatter and laughter you hear whenever in quiet public spaces like a Barnes & Noble café. It’s that type of chatter that sounds like the audio version of when you’re not wearing your glasses or contacts (unless you’re one of those lucky folks who was born with the unimaginable gift of perfect vision). You hear the hushed chatter of other conversations but you can’t quite make out what they’re saying (not like you want to be, but it’s hard not to try). You sip your coffee as you work on whatever you’re working on. Two older gentlemen strike up a conversation. Turns out they’re long friends. This is the moment that just occurred to my right. And to my left is a medallion with the Latin term sympatheia curving around a golden earth and on the back of the medallion is a sentence: We are made for each other with the phrase the fruit of this life is good character and acts for the common good wrapped around the inner edge.
The thread of the aforementioned conversation was — I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise — the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine, and life at large. The seated gentleman mentioned that he had COVID-19 not too long ago. He mentioned the familiar body aches and fatigue; two symptoms that sound like they wouldn’t be that bad but they make you feel as though your muscles are atrophying, decomposing. The standing gentleman — he was wearing a hat and had glasses on — said he was really sorry to hear that he [the seated man] had had it but that he was glad that he was recovering. He motioned toward his table with the intent to end the conversation — you know the way we slightly turn our bodies and make it clear the conversation needn’t stray into that too-long territory — and as he did this, the seated man said he hoped the standing gentleman would manage to continue on without catching this nasty virus. He replied that he hoped so too, that he was cautiously optimistic that the world was returning to at least some semblance of normal, and that he had already had the first dose of the vaccine. This conversation lasted less than a minute. I hadn’t intended to listen at all as I was journaling (which I often do to try to understand my thoughts) but my wireless earphones had died. It concluded almost as soon as it started. Nobody else in the universe heard this conversation. Across the world, these conversations are happening everywhere (though at a lower rate than they were this time a year ago). And as soon as this conversation concluded, the present audio returned right back to that ambient noise of a Barnes & Noble or Starbucks or The Swan café.
We are all always in a hurry to go from one moment to the next, to go from work to the gym to home to bed to work, to rush from one cause of stress to a solution for that stress to another cause of stress. We rush, rush, rush. We hardly bask in the moment, never searching for a distraction that may teach us something for once. We convince ourselves that productivity is the solution to a bored, anxious, or stressed mind so we delve into work instead of escaping into the frivolousness of our existence, choosing to rather believe that we must earn money and pursue achievements to live a good life. We neglect to realize that the moments of life when in laughter, in joy, in wonderment, in nostalgia, or the purest nirvana as we contemplate the universe, those moments? Those moments are what the point of life is. We shouldn’t care about making money for the sake of making money; we should care about the moments where we are most fully ourselves, fully alive. The moments of apparently inconsequential euphoria — those moments are worth more than any achievement.
All of this — the moments of despair and stress, the brief moments of euphoria, the moments of meaningless banter, the moments where we wonder why we’re alive at all — is interconnected. Sympatheia. That conversation between the standing gentleman in a hat and glasses who has gotten one of the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccinations and who is very sorry that the seated man who had COVID-19 but is recovering, and the seated man, that conversation is now etched into the fabric of the universe in our past. It was real and now exists only in the memory of the standing man and the seated man, myself, and also etched into the fabric of the past. Nobody could ever be present in that moment again. Our life is a series of moments interconnected by the smallest increment of time possible. Time, the one thing we can never get back. Every moment that passes is a moment less remaining in your future. While we can’t always see it in reality, we are all connected by merely existing in the universe, all etched into the same swath of cloth that consists of everything.
I was upset that my wireless earphones had died. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to create anything of value, to produce something that I deemed worth my time and effort if I didn’t have the materials needed to zone in and capture some lighting-in-a-bottle complicated feeling that is the feeling of being attuned with your existence. I was consumed with the thought of articulating that emotion instead of experiencing that emotion.
I was upset that my wireless earphones had died, but if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have heard that conversation between the standing man who was wearing a hat and glasses and the seated man who had just recovered from COVID-19. I wouldn’t have been reminded that just being alive and capable of feeling the emotions that come with our aliveness. I wouldn’t have been reminded that the “mere” experience of being alive, the thing that everybody takes for granted, is the most wondrous of them all. I wouldn’t have been reminded that what keeps me navigating my own life is the pursuit of the experience of endless joy.
My Nonno — that’s the word for “grandfather” in Italian — loved to talk to people. His laugh, one of the most contagious in the world, could change the trajectory of your entire day. My fondest memories of him — and they’re way fewer than they should be — were going to the McDonald’s in Weirton, West Virginia where he would chat anybody up and ask them about their day. I used to wonder why he cared to talk to people so much, probably because I was a kid who had so many thoughts and things to say but felt that what I had to say was not worth anything to anybody. It was around that time I first wondered about why I cared to be alive and what it meant to die. I was seven the first time I ever mentioned it to my father.
All of this is interconnected; the interconnectedness of it all consists of the past before we ever existed, the always passing present moment that we perceive passing us by, and the distant future when every person we loosely impacted has long since died. Consider the words on this virtual paper; those words are figments of my mind etched into a solid-state drive and visually presented to you, where the words then become imprinted on the folds of your brain after having left my brain hours, weeks, months, millennia before. We continue to provide pieces of ourselves always in how we impact others — through our words, our actions, our passions, our existence. In that way, our existence is etched into the fabric of the universe forever. There will come a time where time ceases to matter at all; there will be nothing that exists capable of perceiving the universe at all so every second that passes will be meaningless as there will be nothing that perceives time any longer.
A future where we are no longer remembered is agonizing to consider. We strive for an afterlife so we don’t have to grapple with the idea that we could potentially be nonexistent or worse: meaningless, unmissed, unloved. We miss the target completely when we worry about this future reality; whether or not one or the other is true is not the point of the question at all. The question becomes why are we worried about when there is only one thing real: the present moment.
I was upset that my wireless earphones had died. I was caught up in the pursuit of productivity, concerned about something that was just to be checked off a to-do list for the sake of checking a task off the to-do list.
If my earphones hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have overheard the conversation between the standing man and the seated man. That conversation now mostly confined to the past will only persist in the memories of us three and words typed here. Imagine how many conversations we have had that are shared only between a few people, the conversations we’ve had that changed the trajectory of our day because we were reminded of how interconnected we all are. I wonder if there are people that remember the conversations they had with my Nonno at the McDonald’s in Weirton, West Virginia. Maybe they meant little to those who talked to my Nonno. Maybe they were inconsequential and lost to forgetfulness for all of eternity.
Or maybe they changed the trajectory of a life. Maybe, just maybe, one of these conversations was perceived by a man journaling as he accidentally overhead a conversation between a standing man and a seated man.
Something I’m learning is that — whether those minor experiences become forgotten or change our lives by reminding us of sympathetia — we get to be the ones to make that choice.
I was upset that my wireless earphones had died. It turned out to be one of the best parts of my week.
Moving forward, there will be a few other portions included in this newsletter. I will include links to interesting articles I’ve read or book reviews of my most recent reads or other blogs or other things to amplify others’ experiences. I hope to have something positive from this newsletter and platform such as lifting others’ experiences or GoFundMes or whatever else I can do to potentially help others. This would give others an opportunity to do something kind or generous directly within the newsletter. Please reach out if you would like to have something included or would like to partake in whatever way. Thanks so much.
My most recent writings:
this blog, 4 years later — a blog post outlining my writing over the past few years and a call to action for the reader to pursue something that brings them joy
it's been a few weeks since i really thought about my sister —a blog about how the farther removed we are of our lost loved one, the moments where we are stricken with grief become rarer, and how we have to allow ourselves that growth.
you are allowed to love yourself — an essay about the importance of loving one’s self.