Last June, as I was filming testimony of NJ-CARE members during an Assembly hearing, my primary camera failed. I was filming Susan Perry at the time, and I remember thinking – well, New Jersey isn’t going to pass access legislation while Governor Christie is in office, and Susan Perry is one of the most important voices out there so there will be lots more opportunities.
Susan taught us many things. One of them is, we can never foresee the future.
Shortly after her testimony, she was diagnosed with fourth stage melanoma. She passed away less than a month ago. If she had access to her own birth information, it’s quite possible she would still be alive.
And somehow, Governor Christie is finding his way to ‘yes.’ So in May of 2014, New Jersey will see the light at the end of its very long tunnel of adoption reform. Secrecy in adoption will end – and Susan Perry will have played a significant role in that. While I don’t think she’d be happy that adult adopted citizens will have to wait until 2017 to access their birth certificates, or that redactions were a necessary compromise for the passage, I have to believe she would be thrilled about eliminating the secrecy for future generations. Her advocacy alongside the NJ-CARE team will save lives and provide both equality and dignity for adopted citizens going forward.
Susan and I both had cancer scares mid summer 2013. Mine ended up just being a lot of tests and good news. Susan’s experience was far different. I just reread the last emails between us. As she cheered the good news I’d received, I kept prodding her to consider doing a film. She would have been a natural filmmaker with her storytelling gifts, with her laugh, and with her wisdom. But Susan was very clear about what she intended to do with her time: spend it with her husband, her daughters, her grandchildren – and her two newly found sisters, who arrived bearing love and kindness last fall.
Mid winter, I sent Susan and Ty the very first copy of my new film, A Simple Piece of Paper, about adoptee access in Illinois. I don’t know if Susan felt well enough to even watch a few frames – but it made me feel good to know she was its first audience, in spirit.
The film now goes out into the ‘ether’, as it premieres in twenty states on PBS this week, and will hopefully air in every state in the Union through the summer and fall (see www.asimplepieceofpaper.com/find-pbs-screenings.php for the schedule). I wish she were here so we could talk a bit more about about writing with pictures, and the impact films can have. She had the most important gift of any storyteller: an intense passion coupled with a compassionate mind. I am imaging the films she would have made, stamped with her own special wisdom and wit. I will always regret that I didn’t capture her testimony last June. Her words were so powerful. They will always be powerful…