As I was growing up, my parents encouraged me to explore various arts, sports, and subjects of interest, because they said, “Learn all you can – you never know when you will need that knowledge to survive.” That has been true for me. I learned lots of things not knowing why, and the joy of learning stayed with me. I also was not afraid of learning something new, and have used that skill all of my life. Whether it was working on playgrounds in LA, Calgary, or BC, or teaching in the Arctic, I had to learn new skills to survive and adapt, and that mindset of meeting the challenge served me well. The same is true with renovating many old houses. Having to re-wire old fixtures to have light was a challenge, as was learning about old plumbing and furnaces to have water and warmth. I learned out of necessity!
Another thing my mother said to me was, “God has given you many talents. You have to use them to help others.” My parents backed that statement up with experiences giving back to others when I was a child. Our family brought a Christmas Service to a poor Spanish church that could not afford music. My sister and I sang carols and played violin duets, while my parents read scripture and gave the message. Later in high school, we took such services to prisons and that was an education in itself. I saw that every person deserves respect, whether they have lots of money or none, regardless of their circumstances. I think of my mother’s words often and try to help others whenever I can. I do that also in my teaching at the University. I pass on skills and wisdom that I learned to new teachers. Hopefully that will make a difference for the next generations of students.
One other piece of wisdom that has stayed with me came from my mother-in-law. Dorothy said to me, “Always look for the joy in life. Sometimes it is hard to see, but if you look you will find joy in everything – even in difficult times.” That statement was very helpful as I faced many struggles in my life as a wife, mother, artist, musician, and teacher. When the struggles wore me down, I remembered her words of wisdom, and looked for the joy. She was right – sometimes it is hard to see, but it is there and it brings great comfort and peace, and the strength to go on. So I wish you all the challenge of learning, and helping others, and JOY!
Dr. Joanne McNeal is a senior McCauley home owner who still teaches art education classes at the University of Alberta. Her latest challenge is to learn more about gardening. Her yard was nominated for the Front Yards in Bloom for 2013, so she is enjoying that challenge.