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Insights from people watching

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As I write this, I am seated at a bench between the back of Main Quad and the front of Green Library. To give myself time to think, I decided to walk to class, and to further clear my mind, I took a seat on this bench in the sunny Stanford weather. I was intending to work on an essay, but I got lost. Lost in the people riding by on their bikes, the tourists snapping pictures, the staff going about their everyday business. When you stop and take a second to take in Stanford, it’s kind of incredible what you can observe. 

I’m hearing different languages, seeing different fashion styles, witnessing the lives of countless Stanford students as they go about their days. Taking a brief peek into the lives of Stanford students at a time that is often lost in memory — the transit between two places where much of our day is spent — is quite fascinating. I am reminded of a word from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows called sonder, defined as “the realization that everyone around you has a life as rich and complicated as your own.” Seeing each biker, each walker, each skateboarder, rollerblader, golf carter, roller skater and speed-walker reminds me how sonderful our school is. 

It’s interesting to see people from my dorm going about their daily lives. School and our Soto home are so intertwined here. Just like we have lives outside of the dorm, we have lives outside of Stanford, and it is fun to ponder about those experiences, about the finite but seemingly infinite worlds of possibilities that lie in my dorm mates’ lives, in my own. Aside from my dorm mates, I see my TA whisk by on a bike, as well as several professors, and it’s somehow strange to think that they too are people with their own lives, rich and separate from the Stanford bubble.

 From the people I wave to from the bench to the enigmas whom I watch bike by, I wonder what they think of me, sitting on this random bench outside, simply watching, simply wondering. Maybe they didn’t see me at all; maybe I’m just a sliver of a second of someone’s day. Small, insignificant. Or maybe I’m a larger part. After catching up and having a wonderful conversation with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in some time, I wonder if it was as refreshing to me as it was for them.  

I hear another language recede into the background as its speaker walks past me. So far I’ve heard Spanish and an Eastern European language that might be Russian, but this one is new. Almost certainly an Eastern Asian language I only hear a bit of. I wonder what language people think in as they bike quickly to their next class, I wonder what their thoughts entail. 

Watching people go by instead of writing my essay or studying for my midterms might be unproductive, but it is strangely calming. Sitting down, looking around and observing these surroundings, writing them down; this is a relaxing experience. I realize it’s a sort of mindfulness. Maybe that’s why I’m so at rest here despite being in the midst of midterm season. I’m absorbing the present, the here, the now, for all its worth, milking every second. Time has slowed as I enjoy simply watching, simply writing, simply being in the moment. 

I have to get ready for my next class in 10 minutes, and I should probably start thinking about that essay. But for a moment it was nice to calm the constant urge to rush life, to take a break and just be.

Contact Ecy King at [email protected]

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