We knew each other once, intimately. The trim figure, the vivacious brown eyes and half-smile that just about screams vitality, even when silent. Many people merely repeat the headlines they’ve read; she was different. She could give a reason for every word she blurted, no matter how unconsidered they appeared. She had complete ownership of her thoughts.

I’ll refrain from describing her appearance further except to say the boys always had a word and a glance for her, and she knew exactly what to say to every last one. Street smart and book smart, spirit strong with a lot left over.

Here she is tonight, wrapping up her swing shift, a figure in the dark ready to go home. I tilt my head in a smile. Am I glad to see her? Of course. We’ve drifted apart in the intervening years, sure, but it’s been amiable. That takes two, and I’m thankful for her graciousness. You take care of the people who were dear to you, never mind that they’re no longer part of your life; they were once, and they’re still kind, and that is enough. You give them a safe space, put in a good word; you let them down gently, because they are softer than before you came.

“Why is it every time I have a shitty day I’m visited by an angel?” she asks rhetorically, opening a smile for me. She’s explaining her groan of a response to my pleasantries. Tough day for her. I extend my arms out for a hug, reminded of a night two Novembers ago:

The 2016 presidential election had just been lost, and Seattle was devastated. People were hugging each other in the streets, sobbing in the arms of strangers, clusters of disbelief. We were hanging on to what we thought we knew about the innateness of human decency, despite the wake-up call on every news channel: there are people out there who just don’t care. 

Not even the most cynical depressive could have believably said in 2015 that we would have child concentration camps proposed in our American future. That citizens in the 21st century would fail to see an inconsistency between “pursuit of happiness,” “liberty and justice for all,” “all men are created equal…” and forcibly separating families who believe in those ideals, endorsing assault toward other Americans, implementing laws designed to disadvantage women and people of color, misinformation disseminated with impunity, and redistributing wealth with an eye toward reducing the living standards of the middle and working class.

The Trump win was most potently a win for apathy. With the possible exception of certain morally unjustifiable wars in the early and mid-2000s, it unequivocally represents the crowning low point in postmodern American consciousness, and reinforces the country’s defining trait in a landscape where individuals feel ever more powerless to effect widespread change: complacency.

By now we know that the Trump win was a minority opinion, a result of 77,000 voters in three swing states. That paltry figure was enough to decide a nationwide election due to an obviously flawed electoral system, and the fact that system hasn’t been overhauled since is as compelling an example as any as to why complacency rules; complacency* is the opposite of hope, and it’s what you do to survive in a system you believe you cannot change.

But 77,000 isn’t a majority. Nor is nineteen percent—the amount of the country’s total population who voted for Trump (26% of the voter-eligible population). It isn’t just that he lost the popular vote by a healthy 2.9 million, as we now know; that’s borderline misleading in its suggestion of a close race. It was never a close race.

My concern here is not who won, but whether or not Trump’s prejudices represent the American consciousness, and 9.7 million against 231 million does not a majority make. The Trump win only felt like a win for apathy. It was a win for gerrymandering, swing states, and the electoral college. Remember this, when the night is dark:

There is no actual American majority represented by Mr. Trump’s views.

We didn’t know it at the time, though, and we felt worse than we needed to. On November 8, 2016 the lady above and I barely knew each other. I saw her walking home alone, crossing the street in front of me. Like many of us inside the bus and out that night, she was crying. Ours was the mood of the city, the country, the collective who’d become accustomed to tolerance, stunned that greed and selfishness could have such traction as virtues.

I write above that our society is structured to minimize the ability for an individual to effect widespread change. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but even more importantly: isn’t the most potent impact we can have on others always and only ever the personal, the one on one?

I tapped the horn lightly, opening the doors where she was. We looked at each other. I’d never hugged her before.

I said, “do you need a hug?”

Red lights were made for this.

We embraced tightly, searching for words of comfort. Loss, failure, triumph; these are the things that make us one. “I’m so glad I ran into you tonight,” she said, a wan smile beneath her mascara-streaked cheeks.

Tonight, lifetimes later, she has hardships once again, but of a more personal nature; family troubles. She’s waiting for an important phone call, and fills me in during the interim. I’ve seen her only in passing for ages now. Somehow we’ve managed to bypass the awkward stage, the post-mortem of hurt and clawing insecurities.

There is just the easy comfort of a person who once cared and still does, in a healthier way. Let them down gently. Lord knows how many times I’ve failed to do so, but I learn from those with more patience, or less, than I.

Eventually her important phone call came, and she withdrew for the remainder of the ride, relaxed, safe in my space, the Nathan 49 Living Room.

She rose to exit, still on her phone. Into it she said,

“Hang on. Lemme say bye to the bus driver. He’s a good friend of mine.”

I sighed with gratitude and hugged her tightly, again. She’ll never know how much those lines meant to me. Kindness after a relationship has already concluded has no agenda. It is simply kindness, genuine, given for its own sake, because it is consistent with who we are. Is there a bigger relief then being so accepted, after everything is over, by someone who knows your every weak point?

Love. We do what we can to help each other, and to get by. The answer to despair is never reason.

Note: That’s someone else in the photo. It’s less an individual I wish to celebrate here than a sensibility.

Sources and further reading–

For Every 10 U.S. Adults, Six Vote and Four Don’t. What Separates Them? (The New York Times)
What Affects Voter Turnout Rates (FairVote.org)
Voter Turnout Infographic Shows Women, Older People Most Likely To Come Out On Election Day (The Huffington Post)
Characteristics of the typical American voter (Angelo)

26 Percent of Eligible Voters Voted for Trump (The Mises Institute)
Who Were Donald Trump’s Voters? Now We Know (Forbes)
Trump was elected by a little more than a quarter of eligible voters (Vox)

Poll: More than half of Americans strongly disapprove of Trump (NBC)
Donald Trump will be president thanks to 80,000 people in three states (The Washington Post)
The Election Came Down to 77,744 Votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan (Updated) (The Weekly Standard)

Trump’s Lies: The Definitive List (The New York Times)
100 Ways the Trump Administration Is Harming Women and Families (AmericanProgress.org)
Trump migrant separation policy: Children ‘in cages’ in Texas (BBC)
Trump’s tax-cut scam will only deepen racism and inequality (The Washington Post)
The Muslim ban ruling legitimates Trump’s bigotry (The Guardian)
The Day the Music Died (ruminations of my own on driving on election night)

*Congressmen with consciences- we humble plebians can’t do much, but you know you can. You don’t get in the history books by passing legislation or making a lot of money; people haven’t been eulogized for their wealth since the days of Carnegie and Vanderbilt. No one cares. You get eulogized for kicking out unprecedented presidents using unprecedented means.

The guy has his qualities, I’m sure, but being president isn’t one of them and we all know it. There’s no reason for him to still be in office. Look to Section IV of the 25th Amendment for some pretty solid boilerplate language designed for just such circumstances. How convenient. Then guilt-trip your colleagues with a choice quote or two. Here’s one from Ella Wheeler Cox for starters: “To sin by silence when we should protest doth make cowards out of men.”

Article Author

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.