By Rogerline Christopher
Sonder is one of those weird feelings you experienced but couldn’t put a name too. Sonder is the realization that every random person is living a life as complex and vivid as your own.
My mother would describe me as a crybaby. She would say I cried before the milk spilled. It didn’t matter if I was crying because I was happy or if I was sad. I simply cried if I felt anything too deeply. She’d bully me a lot for it and so would other members of my family. So did friends.
It seems the only time it’s acceptable to cry is when you’re a baby. In 2005 a study was done that showed crying, the nonverbal part of it, is developed in the womb. The nonverbal part of crying uses coordination of airways, respiratory systems, and musculature of the face. The study used vibroacoustic stimulation on ten fetuses in the womb. All of them showed fetal crying in response. The fetuses would grimace, frown, and even their inhale and exhale patterns mimic the ones of post womb crying.
And so feeling things deeply isn’t something unnatural or something that happens only in one generation. It’s what we’ve done before we’re born and the first thing we do when we are. I can’t count how many times I’ve come to this realization. The first time in a nail salon when I tried to blame my emotional outburst on getting my eyebrows waxed. My nail technician pointed to my heart and said, “It’s here that hurts.”
Feeling things deeply doesn’t just mean pleasant feelings — it also means those of despair and helplessness. The night Trump got elected my family saw me hysterical over something trivial. There I was, a year from graduating high school, and my family saw a tall crying child. It was another moment where my heart was hurting because there was nothing I could do to help the people who existed out of my life.
There was nothing I could do to help the parents who traveled far to be turned away at our borders. Or for the ones locked in cages. There was nothing I could do for woman who lived outside of New York that just wanted a abortion. There was nothing I could do to help the queer kids who will surely be affected by this election — if not now, then later. Because I was just a kid and all I could do was cry.
Trump’s election inspired me to go to college, and to become a social worker. Because as relieving crying is, it’s not enough action. The field is too big to settle on one thing. I’m constantly at a crossroads between becoming a licensed therapist and doing some type of policy work. Some of the problems people face can’t be solved by cognitive behavior therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. And some policies take years of planning before it can help the people who need it. Between then and now I’ve had a lot of moments where I felt that same sense of helplessness I did the night of Trump’s election.
It’s easy to treat temporary feelings like permanent ones when your planet is constantly in a climate crisis. So often you don’t even know how much of a future is worth planning. Feeling things too deeply means feeling the dread of your life ending before it could finally start. There was so much I was trying not to feel because everything that was happening was another major historical event. Another reminder that I can’t help as much as I want to at the moment.
I tried with everything in me not to burst into tears at the leaked document about overturning Roe vs. Wade. It’s so easy for someone to say “Why are you crying? It’s not even final.” I wanted to hold it all in because they’re right, it isn’t final. Like my mom says, I’m once again crying over milk that hasn’t spilled yet. But it has spilled all so many times before. It was a bottle then and now it’s an entire carton. All at once I risk losing control over my anatomy, who I decide to marry, and more. How the hell do you not cry when so much is at risk?
That same taste of helplessness reminds me I’m not a tall child anymore. The feelings are the same but I’m not the same. I don’t have to wait for a degree in order to fight against something. I can do something more than I could that night.
Giving into doomerism only benefits those in power. As overwhelming and debilitating some feelings are, they are meant to be felt. But feeling them can’t stop there. Some feelings need to be turned into action.
This essay was heavily inspired by the endless teasing that came from my family about being too sensitive and all the major events that happened since 2016. I’d say the best part about writing this is reflecting on how I handle my feelings now.
Rogerline Christopher is a jack of all traits but a master of none. They’re a poet, a writer and a musician. Rogerline finds themselves writing a mix of speculative fiction and horror with black queer main characters. When not writing you can find them binge watching all the Halloween movies or picking up a new hobby.