With the saturation state of culture and media being what it is, modern life has become, more than ever, the act of editing. There is simply too much to process, and you have to be selective. Life is short. You’ll never have the time to get to every article, cable channel, every worldview and suggestion. In ways we don’t realize, we shape our outlook with all these micro-decisions. You end up mostly only seeing what you look for. 

I forget exactly when in my childhood I realized that one of the easiest ways to be happy was to be thankful, and the easiest way to do that was to be grateful for ordinary things. To recognize how easily it could be different, and appreciate what’s here. 

Here are a few moments I’ve noticed of late.

On my 5. My backpack and other belongings were behind my driver’s chair, and upon our hitting a bump in the roadway they somehow collapsed behind me, making a loud crashing noise. I knew it was no catastrophe, just my bags settling, but it sounded worse than it was. In my periphery a man stood up, leaning in helpfully in what appeared to be his natural impulse, ready to assist. 

A man fell down on my 21, slip-collapsing in the articulated section. Bald guy with a backpack or two, and more belongings in his hands. Instantly, the remaining passengers stood up as one, prepared to help. They didn’t know him from Adam, but they wanted to step in, improve his circumstances. Looking out for our fellow humans. It was second nature to them, being alive to the moment in a kind way.

A similar moment but deeper in the night, ramped up a notch: here is a streetwise female passenger I know from before. Usually she’s fine, but tonight is not her night. A soft, sunburned older face with plastic frame glasses, Caucasian, always ever either cheerful or aggrieved, never in between. Third and James: she faceplants on the ice-slick sidewalk, her cane flying. A man and a woman spring out of the shadows to assist. They’re both people of color, much younger than she, but nevermind the differences; as above, it’s second nature to them. It takes me a moment to realize they’re strangers not just to her but to each other too. 

People always look like friends when they’re helping out. 

Inside the bus and finally seated, she’s unable to stand and exit at her stop because her tattered jeans are falling down, pooling around her knees. She asks for someone to help her pull her pants and others assist. I’m pleasantly nonplussed,* given her state. The pale, exposed flesh of her midsection is stringy and pungent, putrid if we’re being forthright here, the consistency of damp dough, and it’s enmeshed like rotten clay into the fabric of her clothing. Can you imagine her shame? Can you imagine her fifty years ago and blonde, the windblown object of some young man’s desire? No, tonight is not her night. She moans in torment and ignominy. 

The first person to step in another street person, and I’m not surprised. As a friend of mine once told me, “when I was homeless, you know who always helped me first, before anyone else? Other homeless people.” This guy is dressed for the elements and half her age. Would you understand if I described him by saying he looks like he must’ve often rode my 358 up and down Aurora, back in the day? Posture and texture, gruffly. Tough guy in an oversized black hoodie, taking off his headphones.

There’s a tender grace in his actions now, as he tries to hold our weak-kneed older friend upright, half hugging her and half reaching down to raise those jeans back up, her stay-at-home underwear in plain sight. The main issue preventing things is that she’s spilling out over her pants, the cloth of which has fused to her skin. That and she’s having trouble standing. Mr. Headphones needs some help.

And he gets it. A well-dressed gent returning from Chicago (who by amazing coincidence played an extra in my upcoming film!) steps in. In attire he’s the polar opposite of the other helping man, clad as he is in polished dress shoes and a dapper black collared wool coat. Can you imagine a more beautiful sight? The best-dressed and worst-dressed men on my bus doing the very same thing, avidly reaching out to help this older soul, even if the going was messy. I reached in myself, following their example– I couldn’t just sit there at this point– and together the three of us made things right. I took her arm then and we walked out of the bus slowly, carefully across the big sidewalk, through a throng of waiting passengers, one of them clearing a spot on a bench as we approached (“Can we have a seat for the nice lady, please,” I barked), two pieces of stardust settling at Third and Virginia.

But I didn’t start the chain reaction. I was following in the lead of the others, thankful for their example.

*Nonplussed means surprised. You’ll hear people use it to mean the exact opposite. It’s a curious circumstance of the slang usage of a word being the exact opposite of the original meaning. Go figure.

This was going to be one post, but it has to be two! There were too many nice people doing nice things to recount in just one writeup. Check back soon!

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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.