I went to Honduras over Spring Break this year, and we had a lot of travel time. On the way home, we were standing in line to board our flight and began discussing favorite numbers. I said mine was 4, and someone asked me why. I’ve been asked that question before, and my usual answer is, “I don’t know, it just is.” Most people have a favorite number that’s associated with some memory (a sports jersey, etc), but I’ve never had a reason for liking 4. Standing in that line in Honduras though, I began to really think about why I liked the number so much and responded, “I guess it’s cause I like the color purple.”
Blank stares. I stared back, wondering why my explanation was so confusing. “I mean 4 is purple, and I really like purple, so I guess that’s why.” My friends looked around, laughed, and said that didn’t make any sense. So I began to think through each number and realized they all had colors. “You know,” I said. “Two is yellow. Three is pink. Four is purple…” At this point, they stopped laughing and were genuinely confused.
Slightly panicked that no one understood what I was saying, I Googled “associates colors with numbers” and discovered the way I’d lived my whole life is not normal. Associating colors with numbers is called synesthesia, and it actually takes place across a wide spectrum of senses. It’s defined as “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” Basically, that’s a super academic way of saying your senses cross paths. My case (Grapheme → Color) is the most common—I sense colors when I think of numbers and letters. They all have their own color, and that color hasn’t changed throughout my whole life. For as long as I can remember, 4 has been purple. A has been yellow. F has been green. I don’t necessarily see these colors on the page when I’m reading, but I feel them. I sense they’re there, like you sense the image of a firetruck when you read the word “firetruck,” without actually seeing it on the page.
I know it’s weird. Freaky, actually, to think that brains are so confusing. And my point in telling you that story is this: I lived for twenty years without realizing my brain worked in a small but radically different way from everyone else and that, as a result, I saw part of the world differently. The reality is that none of us know how the world appears to anyone else, and at the end of the day, we can never fully understand each other.
This is something that’s always fascinated and scared me. I can never know that you’re just as alive as me. We’ve all had that thought at some point—what if this is all some big game, and I’m the only one who’s a real person? Though I don’t actually believe that, it’s strange to think that we’ll never truly know while we’re on Earth. These thoughts can lead to feelings of uniqueness on some days and isolation on others.
It reminds me of this quote I love from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which says,
It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have.
I guess that’s why I like books so much, because they help me feel not so alone. They show me that other people have weird, crazy minds too and that it’s ok. They give me proof that other people are as real as me. They teach me how to be selfless by forcing me to look past my own perspective. And in the midst of these overwhelming thoughts, I choose to find comfort in the knowledge that God does know exactly how I work and think and see the world. No one will ever be able to enter your mind and see the world through your eyes except Him. At the end of the day, He’s the only one who gets us.
You may see or hear or smell the world differently too, whether you have synesthesia or not. There are so many different ways to interpret the life we live, and the way you see things might not even have a name. You might discover it one day like I did, or maybe you’ll never know. That’s kind of beautiful, though, isn’t it? Our lenses through which we see the world are uniquely ours… They’re intriguing, confusing, and fun to explore. They are proof that we’ve been purposefully and wonderfully created by a Creator, and our individuality urges us to draw closer to Him—to the only one who’ll ever see through the same lens we do. It’s a beautiful lens, so enjoy it.
*(If you think you might have synesthesia and want to find out, you can here).