Finding that perfect, special gift

Published 6:00 am Sunday, January 1, 2017

I recently saw a very special post  on Facebook about a 10-year-old girl in Northern Ireland who has autism and ADHD. She was not really very good at any subjects at school and was so painfully shy she was reluctant to speak. Fortunately, her music teacher saw that she had musical potential and worked with her for months to build her voice and her confidence.

The end result was that she sang a solo of the song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Her singing was so powerful and so moving that I played the song over and over again. I was left thinking that all of us have that one special talent or quality inside of us just waiting to be discovered. Every parent and teacher are constantly looking out for the one quality that will be the spark to make a child’s life shine.

The right teacher

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When I was a student I was not very good at math, but in 7th grade my math teacher, Mrs. Olson, took a special interest in me and helped me discover new math. I still remember standing next to her at the blackboard. She was tall and thin and had white hair pulled back into a bun. She paid attention to me and was intrigued that I knew how to make the infinity symbol. Actually, it was only a plus sign, but the way I drew it made her think it looked like an infinity symbol. She made me feel special, and she was so encouraging and supportive that I soon learned the binary system and new math. She was such a good teacher that some forty years later I remembered the binary system perfectly and could coach my husband who was studying computer data processing in his spare time. Mrs. Olson was a brilliant teacher and she saw that little gift in me.

Sometimes we discover our own special talents. We are drawn to some things and not to others. Some of us like to be the center of attention, and others like to retreat into the background. Some of us like to work with our hands and others like to use our minds. That is what makes us all so special and unique.

Trying new things

To find those special talents that are unique to us we have to be open to trying new things. Not too long ago I took a course at the University museum taught by Constance Pierce who is an exceptional artist. She has the ability to see artistic talent in others who may not even know they possess any. During the class, she taught us how to make background washes so that we could later make drawings on top of them. The washes high-lighted and contributed to the final art piece. I loved doing the washes and did one after another. I also tried my best to make drawings on the washes but was not as successful. On the last day of class, Ms. Pierce had mounted the best works we had done. She presented the mounted works to students making encouraging comments on each one. My neighbor received two of her drawings beautifully mounted. I knew I would not qualify for my own work to be mounted, and was just about to ask my neighbor if  I could temporarily borrow one of hers so that I looked like I had accomplished something. At that very moment, my name was called and Ms. Pierce presented me with one of my washes carefully mounted. She had found my talent, and what a gift she gave me canceling out years of thinking I was not good at artwork!

Some people just know

Absolutely everyone has a special talent and once it is recognized that person just blossoms in the recognition. Finding what makes you happiest and what you are best at is life changing. It needs to be our life’s goal to find that one thing that fulfills us. Some people know at a young age. My husband knew at about the age of ten that he wanted to fly, and had his license by the age of seventeen. Other people take longer. I have known people to switch majors several times in college until they finally find the right fit.

Even failure in one field can lead to great success in another area. I remember Robert Khayat giving a book reading at Off Square Books about his own life experiences in his inspiring book, The Education of a Lifetime. With his beautiful blue eyes twinkling, he told the story of how he wanted to be a physician, but biology was his enemy. He switched to law, became Chancellor of Ole Miss and we all know how stellar his career was in making Ole Miss the great school it is. He found his calling and in doing so made a lasting contribution to education and to the Oxford community.

So keep an open mind, follow your heart, and try to listen as it leads you to what you are happiest doing.

This might even be a good New Year’s resolution.

JOANNE WILKINSON is an Oxford resident and can be reached at