Remembering what matters: A story of kindness in Greenwood
by Rylan Bauermeister
It’s dark out, and you’re standing at the curb. Rain spatters off cars as headlights cast shining light in swathes along the road, and the bare trees crackle overhead. It’s that all too familiar scene of waiting for a bus, of standing in the night for someone to come get you.
When they do, we know all too well what a difference it makes when the door opens and we’re greeted with a smile. A wave.
“Come on in.”
Nathan Vass drives a bus for Seattle Metro for the sheer joy of it, and has become something of a local celebrity for his attitude.
What some see as a grim occupation, he views as a way to reach out to others. The author of The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus, blogger, filmmaker, and driver shared his thoughts with us, commenting:
“Being able to touch another life, be touched, even if briefly, now that is something. Isn’t it?”
At the Greenwood Senior Center, Erika Merz leads The Gathering Place, an enrichment program for people with early stage memory loss (ESML). To borrow Nathan’s words, she is “a radiant ball of kind, considerate, controlled positive energy.”
“I’m really passionate about creating spaces for people to connect and grow and share in deep experiences—meaningful experiences,” she says.
She recently directed a film about memory loss, titled Living with Memory Loss, In Our Own Words. It features members of The Gathering Place speaking to their experiences and trials. However, more than anything it speaks to hope. To the benefits of patience, kindness, and an open mind. The process of creating the film, however, caused her a bit of a headache.
Or it did, until Nathan came along.
“One day, while I was cleaning up, this young, enthusiastic man came in. He had rented the room for a meeting after the program. We just started talking and we both had so much enthusiasm and excitement about the elements of the human experience,” Erika says.
After connecting and speaking further, Nathan agreed to help work on editing the film from its 19-minute version down to a size that’s easy to share more widely. Together, the two of them cut the film down to just under five minutes.
“It’s rare to find someone who wants to lean into the painful and beautiful side of humanity,” Erika commented.
The film itself is a beautiful celebration of hardship, and the strength and perseverance it takes to overcome that hardship. It is a powerful statement as to how we can live well, and how we can treat others.
From the outside, looking in, Nathan’s ever-growing popularity is due to one thing: his attitude. He’s friendly. He helps. In the current world, it seems like a demanding task some days. Finding joy in the modern world isn’t always easy.
“As individuals, we can’t change the world around us very easily, but we can reframe how we’re looking at it and adjust how we treat others,” Nathan said.
“For me, the easiest shortcut to being depressed is wondering whether or not [I’m] happy, and the easiest shortcut to being happy is being thankful.”
Erika, for her part, engages in grassroots activism, and spoke enthusiastically to the idea of participating in your community. “Truly find the things you love, the gifts you have, the natural skills you have. Use that as a guiding principle,” she urged.
It’s odd how these principles can fall by the wayside sometimes. We get caught up in the trials of our lives, our own stories and issues. In other words, we forget.
It strikes this writer as interesting that when confronted with memory loss, however, the thing that people hold onto, that keeps them moving, are those same principles and kindnesses that the rest of us are so quick to lose sight of.
“People just sort of go within themselves, and they don’t talk. And I think that’s a big mistake,” remarks Mike Peringer* in Living with Memory Loss, In Our Own Words.
“The world, and ourselves, needs compassion to see it through,” says Roger Stocker in the film.
The central message of the film is one of unity, kindness, and perseverance. A statement that even when we forget, we can still do what matters most: be good to one another. That even when times are hard, we need not take that hardship into ourselves. That the best communities are those built on foundations of caring. Communities that smile, share, volunteer, and help one another with their film projects.
“How do I get through those rare difficult nights?” Nathan said. “I’d say the same way we get through life—imperfectly. But the best we can.”
*We’d like to honor and acknowledge the life of Mike Peringer who passed away in Dec. 2018.
Watch the memory loss film
Watch Living With Memory Loss: In Our Own Words at the following online sources (Please feel free to share widely!):
The abridged five-minute version (edited by Nathan):
*The full 19-minute documentary is free for streaming or download here.
Read Nathan’s book & blog
For more information on Nathan Vass’ book, The Lines That Make Us, visit nathanvass.com/book.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 edition of The Review.
Cover photo of Nathan Vass courtesy of Nathan Vass.