Thirty years ago, my wife and her family introduced me to the small fishing village of Stonington, Me. It is rugged, strikingly beautiful, and home to many hardworking people making their living and raising their families. The island is also home to many artists, not only because of it’s beauty, and quality of light, but also because of the character of the community. Early on, we met one painter, Jill Hoy, whom we have admired for her brilliant use of color and unique style to her oil paintings. Each year, as we walk up and down the steep hills of the town after church and/or breakfast at the Harbor View Cafe, we would always seem to end up at Jill’s gallery to admire her impressive work that has captured so much of this island.
While we would run into Jill at the Friday farmer’s market, or at the local swim pond, or around this small town, we had not really met her husband, Jon Imber. Jon, himself, was a renowned American painter, Harvard University professor, and lover of summers in Stonington. In the summer of 2014, we ran into Jill and she mentioned that her husband, who had been diagnosed with ALS less than two years earlier, had died that spring. So, why would I blog about a man we never really met or knew? When Jill relayed the sad news, I noticed that she seemed to have a certain peace about it. My first thought was that I hoped he had not taken his own life to avoid the challenges of the horrible disease. My wife and I had watched a very close friend and the godfather to one of our girls live through a grueling two years with that same disease that racks and robs the body of everything before taking the very life of its victim. It is a test of courage, will, and endurance that no one would wish on anyone.
I did not think that I would ever know the truth about Jon but happened upon the very inspiriting story in how Jon LIVED those nineteen months with ALS. Jon had maintained his warmth, humor, love of people, and his desire to paint until he could paint no more, just two days before he died. I watched a film, Imber’s Left Hand, that I found to be an incredibly moving view into Jon’s inspiring attitude and desire to live each moment to the fullest. His wife, Jill, had said that having family was liberating to her husband, which alone was a striking truth. When the disease took the use of his right hand, he was fascinated about finding out what he could create with his left. Jill said that it was ironic that the disease, which took his painting hand, “brought out this honesty, authenticity, and a kind of clumsiness and awkwardness” to his work. It was in his struggles and limitations that he found out new things about his art and himself. It was in those difficult moments of recognizing the immediacy of one’s mortality that he knew how very much he was loved by his family and communities.
I have no idea if Jon Imber had faith in God or the hope of the joy of heaven when his journey in this life was over, but I will have to say that I was greatly inspired and moved not by only his desire, but his actual living those last days to the fullest. He was fascinated by his new work, with it’s “raw, expressive gestures” that came with using new parts of himself to continue creating and painting. He felt proud of his new work saying, “It’s what I always wanted in painting.” Jill said that Jon continued painting with everything he had until two days before his death. We could all learn such a valuable lesson from Jon, to live each day to it’s fullest, with no excuses, no regrets, or waiting until things are perfect. I am trying to remind myself of his incredible example every day.