“Aaaahh,” she shrieked. She was referring to her bag of groceries.

Getting on the bus had been difficult, a challenge involving balance and a careful hold for an aging body. Nothing in life prepares us for the challenge of decrepitude, the humility of being reduced to a child, guided down a hallway by hospital staff, taking our first steps after weeks in bed with a walker and their help.

We used to be so good at this.

I gave her the time she needed to settle in, but not quite enough–I started rolling out slowly with one of my customary “hang on tight” announcements before she had completely sat down. The groceries slipped–they were falling, until they weren’t. She caught them in time.

“You okay?”
“Yeah,” she said. “My grocery bags almost flew everywhere, but I got ’em.”
“Well, even if it just barely works out, it still works out, right?”

I’ve written before about certain cast-off lines I’ve heard people, usually friends of mine, share. In a moment of conversation they’ll drop a nugget of wisdom without thinking; they’re just being themselves. It’s no big deal for them. But for me, meanwhile, their throwaway line will have enormous resonance. I’ll sit with it, keep it in my mental pocketbook of how to think, how to live. As detailed in the above-linked post, many such lines have proved formative for me.

I could see by this elderly woman’s reply that I had had that effect on her. She laughed the laugh of new wisdom, of the relief that comes with seeing things in a new light, an easier light, the place where things make sense. It’s not so bad after all.

Hanging on by a thread still qualifies, absolutely and irrevocably, as hanging on.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.