Jennifer Sass came into my life seventeen years ago. It’s been a wonderful journey with her, over all these years. And now we she’s in the process of leaving the world and we (her family and vast and loving group of friends) are saying goodbye to her.
One day, about ten years ago, Jennifer and I were walking, as we did almost every Wednesday for several years. Jennifer is one of the fastest walkers I know. We walked whether it was raining or windy or blasting sunshine. We always took the same path from her house, down to Tryon Creek. It was a beautiful tree-ey kind of walk.
I was just beginning to write back then and I had an idea, a memoir I wanted to start. But it required one first step, a letter to a man in prison, the man who raped me. It scared me. Jennifer was considering doing a new documentary on Powell’s bookstore (she loved to read and she loved bookstores, especially Powell’s) and she needed to make contact with Michael Powell to start the process. She also was a bit scared. So she said, “I challenge you. You write your letter and I’ll make my call.” We agreed. We shook on it. We smiled at each other. By the time I got home that afternoon, there was a message from Jennifer. She had made the call, the project was started. There was NO WAY, I wasn’t going to write my letter. So I did, that day. And that path was the beginning of me becoming a writer.
Over the years, Jennifer has been a champion of my writing, always asking about it, always showing up at readings, always cheering at my successes. But more than that, she’s been a champion of me. She’s encouraged and pushed and she’s continued to challenge me. She’s been a dear friend, most especially because we’ve gone through times of conflict, becaue there are ways we are so very very different. I treasure those times because it has simply deepened the grooves of our path to each other.
And I’m not alone. She has a huge group of people that she’s touched. Because she’s curious and open and honest and funny, and she’s got a great voice.
I got to work on the documentary, while it was being filmed. It was so cool to see Jennifer in her element, interviewing people, drawing them out, loving them, connecting. The finished project, Shelf Life, is a wonderful story of the love of reading and books and Powell’s.
On these last days of her life, as we all gather around her, I am endlessly grateful for the day Jennifer stepped into my world. This world is going to miss her.