Matthew Wilson was a mental health ombudsman working for King County when a stroke changed his life. “I loved that job, helping people with their therapist, doctor, health center that they feel stuck with. ‘This is so-and-so’s difficulty. Is there some way we can work it out for them?’” Matthew had a degree in Jungian psychology and neuro-linguistic programming. “I knew what I was doing,” he says. “A lot of time, they come back and say, ‘I want you to be my therapist, not just my advocate.’”
Wilson grew up in New Jersey. He served in the military in the 1960s, in Germany rather than in Vietnam. He sold vacuum cleaners in California before moving up to Seattle. He’s lived here almost 30 years.
His stroke happened on Sept. 11, 2011. “Every time the anniversary comes around, it’s mine, too. We both were destroyed the same date.” Eight years later, he’s still in assisted living. “I can’t be by myself in an apartment. If I fall, there’s no way of getting help. I’d have to lay there, which bums me out. I don’t want to be there till I die. So far, I haven’t figured that out.”
Real Change is an essential part of his emotional survival. “Sometimes I’m feeling down, stuck to this [wheel]chair, and here comes a customer, ‘Hey, how are you?’ real loud, wake me right up. They’re so sweet, tell me about how they baked something for the family. You feel part of the community. They’re my therapy. If I became rich, I’d just keep buying papers and giving them out so I could keep talking to them.”At home, Wilson mostly watches the news. “I got stuck on MSNBC. I’m really concerned about what’s going on in this country. My customers – I call them friends – a lot of them go to different countries, then they come back and tell me about it, and I ask them what do they think of Americans? The English, they feel sorry for us!”
That contrasts with an experience Wilson had in 1969 as an American soldier in Germany: “When they were landing on the moon, we happened to be out in the field. On the way back, we wanted to stop and have our last beer. This village had one bar and one color TV. Everybody was there, and as soon as we opened our mouths they went, ‘Americans!’
“They started buying us drinks and watching them land on the moon. When he [Buzz Aldrin] finally put his foot down, they hugged us. I gave them a dollar, and they thought it was a hundred. They started giving me back money, and I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is only 4 marks!’”
“So that one time I was an ambassador for the United States, a good ambassador, let them know we’re honest people. We bought them some drinks, and they bought us more. By the time we got out of that place, we were just toast, but we felt real good.”
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