Remembering Jan Hart
“Our horizon is never quite at our elbows.” ~ Thoreau
We set goals in life and reach for the horizon, making detours, sometimes losing our way. At other times we do nothing at all and just plunk down, our arms tired from the constant stretching with the horizon never moving. The horizon stays put as long as we do. Something in the reaching moves it closer, and our goals are met along with it.
A new horizon comes along, and the reaching begins again. The greatest gift we have in this life is having a friend who renews our energy time and time again, making new horizons seem possible and our lives color-filled.
New and magical horizons presented themselves when Jan Hart entered my life. There are times in this journey we call living that there is a “knowing” upon meeting a person for the first time, and this was my experience with Jan even before we actually met. I instantly knew she would be of great importance to me, but little did I know how much I would come to love her.
I read her online book, What Do You Mean I Can’t Move to Costa Rica?, and her words easily tipped the scales for me on a decision that I had previously found hard to make. Emboldened by her courage and experience, I left all that I had known and moved to the exact location in Costa Rica where she lived. Little did I know how the move would impact my life and change it in ways that only happen when serendipity is involved.
I met Jan at Bazooka’s one day after going to the feria. I had no idea that she would be there. Sitting at the table with newfound friends, some of them said, “Oh, there’s Jan and Frank.” They waved. I turned to see, and there she was, tucked away in a corner with Frank. I immediately asked if they knew Jan. Of course, everyone did. My friends encouraged me to go and introduce myself to Jan.
I wanted to meet her and thank her for writing the book. I bravely approached her table to greet her. I gushed a lot, probably too much, about how her book had impacted my life. She graciously smiled, but she did not have a lot to say. Little did I know that I was interrupting the beginnings of Jan and Frank as a couple and that this was one of their first dates. Later, I often teased her that she acted like a celebrity that day, begrudgingly making time for a fan. This never failed to make her laugh.
I left Bazooka’s that day thinking I would probably never get to know Jan, which saddened me, and I felt ridiculous to be so sad because Jan was nearly a stranger to me. Little did I know that she would never be a stranger to me again and instead would come to share her talent, her wisdom, and her world with me in profound ways.
The following week at the feria, who should come walking toward me but Jan. We said our hellos, and then she confided to me that she had artist’s block and that I could help. I cocked my head in wonder, not understanding how I could possibly even begin to help in the unblocking. She explained that she had always been a teacher and found it difficult to paint unless students were present. She asked if I would like to be her student.
I laughed and told her that I was no painter, but I would be glad to bring a book and sit in a chair beside her while she painted. My offer seemed acceptable to her, and a few days later, I went to Jan’s outdoor studio prepared to become immersed in a book while sneaking peeks at her painting process.
Jan, however, had other ideas. Within two minutes of opening my book, she stood and brought over watercolor paper and a paintbrush and began making a little tray of paints for me. I protested, and she literally grabbed my hand and put the paintbrush in it.
“I think you are an artist,” she said with deep conviction. “Now paint.”
How could I say no to Jan? After the first few strokes of the brush, I was mesmerized with watercolor painting. My first painting experience turned into regular lessons with Jan and other friends, and every class was a joy.
Jan and I also started spending a lot of time together, meeting for lunches and calling each other on the phone. Our conversations were never shallow but always deeply moving with ideas and ponderings that were truly treasures. There was minimal small talk with Jan, and instead, the conversations were nearly always both intellectual and spiritual. I never once left her company without feeling enriched by the gift of her friendship and wisdom.
My adventures with Jan broadened to include a trip to Italy as her teaching assistant for a watercolor workshop, helping her to prepare for her many teaching workshops in Costa Rica, and last but not least, being her “Maid of Honor” at her wedding with Frank. We laughed at my title, and secretly Jan added to it by calling me her, “Maid of Honor, No Longer a Maiden.”
Jan and I talked many times about light and shadow and how together they traveled toward a horizon. She taught me how to see the light and shadow not only visibly but in the world at large in social interactions, politics, and in the many ways that we as humans have a choice in loving each other or not.
Jan nearly always showed me the physical light by pointing out the leaves of a plant and how the light undulated and glowed through its leaves. Once I’d found the light, she instructed me, “Now find the shadows.” Her next instruction was, “Now see the colors.” I’d never looked at the world this way, but once Jan had pointed out the differences, I never was able to see it any differently. Jan had that way about her. She changed the world for us, one shining leaf at the time.
I remember a very significant conversation in which we talked about the light and shadows and how overcrowding a painting could muddy the focal point and the horizon. The horizon was lost by adding too much, by not choosing placement wisely.
The lessons in painting that Jan gave me became lessons that applied to life itself because she made sure that I saw life’s joys and challenges as one immense painting to fill with color. In life, there would always be light and shadows and a horizon that mattered. Jan taught me that we needed to recognize the light and shadows and not overcrowd our lives with too many material things, unloving acts, or expectations that there would never be dark times among the shadows. According to Jan, it was up to us to add the color with our attention to these things. We determined the quality of life by adding color and traveling to our personal horizons with more joy and clarity.
I find it interesting that Jan was enamored of self-portraits in her last months spent here with us. Painting a self-portrait takes immense introspection and an intimate viewing of oneself physically and from within both heart and soul.
Jan badgered other painters and me to try it, and of course, I eventually caved into her wishes. I did one self-portrait to appease her. I see now that she again asked me and others to be her students while she painted. Though it was virtual, the enlightenment from Jan was the same. Her process became my lessons, some new ones that she wanted me to learn.
Jan did many self-portraits in these past months, and with each one, I believe she was documenting who she was with her paintings in preparation for letting go. There was no clutter of any unnecessary objects, only the clear and unobstructed view of Jan herself at a horizon nearly reached. I noticed, too, that her preferred color palette had changed in her self-portraits. Vivid colors in her prior paintings gave way to more peaceful and somber tones, and one horizon seemed to be fading in preparation for a new one.
I know with certainty that Jan had an unexplored horizon in mind, one with light, shadows, and colors that she had not seen before. I know, too, that somewhere Frank stood on that new horizon, watching her approach with a smile, the colors surrounding him and drawing Jan home.
When one horizon was reached, Jan always found another. This was the way that she lived her life. No matter her joys or sorrows, Jan always reached for new horizons with eagerness and grace. Her indomitable spirit and wisdom are a testament to a life well-lived and an example to us all.
Let us honor Jan by recognizing the importance of the light and shadows in our own lives and reaching for new horizons by stretching our arms with the determination and grace of Jan Hart. May we never forget to notice the magnificence of the colors along the way.
Let’s consider finding leaves lit by sunlight, seeing them with fresh eyes, and remembering Jan when we do. In the light, Jan will be with us there, just over the horizon, surrounded by the glorious colors she so graciously gave to us all.
Written with love by Linda Bass