In a year when the coronavirus forced social distance, KCLS brought people together in virtual space to discuss and experience the importance of human connections.
One of the most impactful of those efforts was Redmond Reads. The program, coordinated by Redmond Library Adult Librarian Dan Shaffer, challenged patrons to read and discuss the same book over four months—June 15 to October 15. That book, The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus by Metro bus driver Nathan Vass, is a compassionate look at humanity and a guide for building community—even during a pandemic.
The program featured nine online sessions; seven focused on the book, followed by one on “How Technology Has Made Us Lonely” and a “Meet the Author” talk. Sessions included a kindness challenge, such as “take food to your local food bank” and “write a letter or card to a person that makes you joyful.”
Vass’ book began as a blog capturing stories of those he met, literally, in transit. Empathetic and non-judgmental, he struck up conversations with his various riders, whether professionals or people experiencing homelessness, addiction or mental illness, building a sense of belonging along his route.
“Bus driving is where I’m meant to be, helping other human beings, looking for positive things, staying open,” Vass told program participants. “This is where I can do the most good, to make others feel a little bit better. You don’t know if the person’s mom is in the hospital, or they’re stressed out about their job or other things. I get something out of seeing people smile.”
While that has been more difficult with masks that hide people’s faces, Vass is philosophical: “It’s not ideal, but the saving grace is COVID won’t last forever. To me the best shortcut to being happy is being grateful—my parents were good at teaching this.”
Vass’ perspective on people and life led Alexandra Smith to teach his book for her writing class at Seattle University. Her students engaged with Redmond Reads in ways that surprised her.
“It was transformative,” she said. “It came alive for them in a way simply reading the book in a classroom never quite could. Students shared that they were inspired to be brave, to openly embrace the world beyond their front doors, to put their phones in their pockets and to pay attention to what’s happening around them. As an educator, and, frankly, as a human being, what more can one ask for with responses like this?”
J. Kane, also a bus driver, called Vass “a treasure among people and especially bus drivers.
“This is the hardest job I have ever had,” Kane said. “Nathan has made me stop and really think about my behavior as a driver. He really works at getting to know his riders and co-workers and takes a pleasure in the connections he makes. I want to be more like him.”
Even online, the program was “powerful,” Smith said.
“Amidst the isolation and hardship of the pandemic, to be surrounded by strangers, even if only virtually, talking about human connection and witnessing connection happen in real time was refreshing, healing and invigorating,” she said. “I’m so glad I attended, and thankful Redmond Library put this together.”