It's an odd thing: death is a natural part of life, but it always strikes me as highly surprising, almost unnatural, and deeply disturbing. When I hear about a friend who has passed away, I immediately personalize the situation and feel a deep sense of guilt about not spending enough time with the person, especially immediately before he or she died. It's odd. A pattern that has repeated itself with me: I hear the news, I immediately am in disbelief, then I sink into regret about not having been closer to the person, not having put aside my own small silly schedule to spend more time with those who I will never see alive again.
It was the same when I heard about Jane's passing yesterday. Jane is a friend I have not seen in over six years. The first thing that comes to mind is that we were very close, then had a bit of a falling out. It was one of those friendships that was strong, but had its place and time, and then it went into decline. But she is a person I have very distinct memories of to this day. In other words, we grew apart and stayed apart, but her influence on me stuck around.
She was, if you had to define her in one word, a runner. Through and through, long distance running was her thing. She is the only friend I have ever had that ran a 100 mile race, the Vermont 100, and for that I am proud, because when people talk about marathons (a mere 26.2 mile race) and ultra-marathons (events over 26.2 miles), I tell them about a friend I used to have who ran 100 miles. That's a race through forest, on single-track trails, through river crossings, and through the night - yes, more than 24 hours long, so you run without sleep. That's an extreme endurance event very few people can finish. And I knew someone, trained with someone, who finished. I believe her time was about 27 hours.
I met Jane in Griffith Park one Saturday morning when I was there with my friend Richard, getting ready to go for a run. Jane was in a small group of runners, and they were starting about where we were planning to start, and Jane, being the friendly, outgoing personality that she was, struck up a conversation with us, and that's when we learned that her group was planning to run a 20-miler that day, followed by something like a 30-miler the next morning. This was a hard-core group! They had to be hard-core - they were training for a 100 mile race, so there was no holding back, no time for rest between two extremely long distance runs.
Shortly after that fateful meeting, and learning that we both lived in West Hollywood, Jane and I became friends, running often together, weekends, weekdays, mornings and evenings. Her running enthusiasm was wildly contageous. She mapped out running routes on trails that showed me the beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains. She planned races that took us on gorgeous trips to Paso Robles (Wine Country Half Marathon), Humbolt County (Avenue of the Giants Marathon), and San Diego (Rock n Roll Marathon). She introduced me to running groups that specialized in trail running - groups such as the Mountain Goats, which exposed me to wonderful trails through the mountains that made me love Los Angeles more than ever. With Jane, I trained and ran some of the most challenging races ever: the Bulldog Trail Run comes to mind. Through running together, over those many miles, we bonded. It was all great fun.
Toward the end of our friendship, we even took a trip together that didn't involve a race: we went to Cabo San Lucas for a long weekend. I still remember that she chatted up strangers and locals alike and asked about where to go that was unique and interesting, and on our way to the Hotel California, we stopped at a roadside outdoor bar called "Arts and Beer," a place recommended to her, and we had delicious fresh fruit drinks and beer and succulent raw clams harvested on the nearby beach, split open by the owner with a small jack knife and doused with Worchestershire sauce and lime and a dash of soy sauce - awesome - and it was as idyllic a scene as you could imagine.
Jane was one of the first foodies I had as a friend - she would insist we eat at quirky, interesting and unique restaurants she had researched when we were out of town, and that made trips fun and not just about physical exertion, but also about enjoyment and reward. She told me that on a date, she ordered sweetbreads as an appetizer, and a huge steak for dinner - she burned tons of calories running the high mileage that she did - and that freaked out her date.
Of course, toward the end of our friendship, negative feelings got in the way. People are not just one dimensional, all good or all evil - they are multi-faceted, and Jane certainly was. But in spite of what negative things I did remember about her, she possessed a rich spirit and a joie de vivre or passion for life that was unstoppable, and she wasted no part of it doing dull things or being afraid or not pushing herself to be the best. She travelled constantly. One trip she did by herself because no one else would go, and that would probably be me included, declining maybe because it was "too far" was Portugal to run the Lisbon Marathon. She came back with great stories to tell, how she stayed in hostel-like accommodations, went out every night and listened to the local music, and met new people.
Like I said, she lived.
It was hard to hear that she died at the young age of 58, succumbing to cancer. She was someone who I thought would live until at least 95.
I heard this news from my running friend Paul last evening. I didn't even know she was sick. I was that out of touch from her world.
This morning I had running plans with my friend Linda. We had a 5 mile run ahead of us and after I shared with her that I heard an old friend had died, Linda exclaimed that she knew Jane also. I never knew that.
We spent 5 miles talking about and remembering Jane Wasserman, runner, adventurer, friend.
Rest in peace.