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Hi Readers, I'm pleased to announce that MOST HIGHLY FAVORED DAUGHTER was a finalist in the Inspirational Fiction category in the...

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Where Was I . . . Keeping It Real!

By Janice Lane Palko

I lie. Let me clarify that. I try not to in my daily life or when I write articles for this magazine, but in my spare time, as you may know, I like to write novels. Fiction is not true. It may seem that way. In fact, novels may seem “realer” than real life sometimes because they usually have an ending that ties up all the loose ends of a story and makes sense of all that preceded it. Life often doesn’t make sense or doesn’t end with all things tied up in a nice bow.

However, these days, it’s becoming harder to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to reality. In our recent issue of Pittsburgh Fifty-Five Plus magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing two women who are reading their way through some of the best novels ever written. One of the things they noticed is how novels written in the centuries before now went into explicit detail when describing places and objects. That was because in those days, they didn’t have access to Instagram, Google Images, YouTube or the Internet, so a writer had to paint those pictures in their readers’ minds by using lots of words.

One of our advertisers is using Virtual Reality to help their Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and I think that is fantastic and very exciting. But in other ways, it seems we’re trending to other extremes and allowing virtual reality to substitute for real life. We hear news stories of virtual sex robots or the first Virtual Reality Roller Coaster Ride in LEGOLAND Malaysia, which sends riders wearing Virtual Reality glasses into a world completely composed of LEGO bricks. When I asked an un-named twentysomething family member if she wanted to go to a concert with me, she replied, “Why would I pay money to see them in concert when I can watch them on YouTube?”

Why? Because Virtual Reality or a video is not the next best thing to being there. Actually, being there or experiencing something personally is the best thing. Case in point. In my Christmas novel, A Shepherd’s Song, I have my two main characters attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Heinz Hall. I have never seen Messiah, so I made the whole scene up, including the part where my characters kiss during the Hallelujah Chorus. This year, however, I thought it would be a nice way to celebrate the holidays by actually taking in this year’s performance at Heinz Hall. And I’m glad I did because it illustrated how much more interesting, provocative, spontaneous and beautiful real life can be.

When it came time for the Hallelujah Chorus, the audience traditionally rises. As we stood, and the voices of the chorus filled Heinz Hall, the elderly black man two seats over on the aisle raised his hands in praise to God and sang along in such a lovely baritone, that it brought a lump to the throat. Midway through the piece in the row before me, a young man covered in tattoos and piercings, suddenly removed his baseball cap out of respect. Their unscripted, unexpected real actions surpassed any virtual reality anyone could have dreamed up and will be something I will never forget.
Virtual reality has its place, and even though real life can sometime be messy, harsh, confusing, depressing or sad, it’s those real moments of grace and beauty that break through into our lives that make it all worthwhile.

This originally appeared in the January 2019 edition of Northern Connection magazine.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Where Was I . . . The Code of the Universe

If I get up at night to visit the bathroom, I pass three windows on my way. My house sits high on a hill, and when I glance out those windows, I can see across a small valley to the next street over where the light from a gas lamp pierces the darkness and sends out rays of light, shining like a star. For some reason, that small light always makes me feel better.

After the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, I’ve been thinking a lot about light. The tragedy happened at the darkest time of the year, making the grief and sorrow that has descended upon those living here seem that much bleaker. Dwelling in darkness is not comfortable, and I believe a longing for light has been encoded into our souls because ever since we’ve discovered fire and the sun, humanity has been attracted to light. 

Most every religion, ancient or otherwise, celebrates or incorporates light into its practices. The ancient Druids had several light festivals. Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrate the festival of light known as Diwali.  Jews celebrate Hanukkah, which commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, when a miracle happened. Even though they only had enough oil to keep the Menorah lit for one day, the lamp burned for eight days. Christians light candles, Christmas trees and decorate their homes with light at Christmastime.

The sacred books are filled with references to light. In fact, the third verse of the Old Testament tells us that one of the first things God created was light saying, “Let there be light.” In John’s Gospel in the New Testament, he tells us in the Nativity narrative that, “What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it."

A few nights after the shooting at Tree of Life it occurred to me why that small light I see in the middle of the night gives me hope and comfort. It’s because no matter how dark it may get, light cannot be vanquished by the darkness.  But light can defeat darkness. In the midst of a bright summer day, have you ever seen a patch of darkness? No. However, you can see light shining in the darkness, but you will never see a patch of darkness penetrating the light. Not only are we created to embrace the light, it is foreordained that light overcomes the darkness. Therefore, no matter how dark it may feel this December whether from the loss of daylight, genuine sorrow or sadness, know that in the end the light always triumphs—it’s written into the code of the universe. 

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

This originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of  Northern Connection magazine.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Happy Grandparents Day!

Where Was I . . .  Best Job Ever!

This month we celebrate National Grandparents Day on September 9. I have been a grandmother for a little over three years now to two little girls, and I can say that next to being a mom, it is the best job ever! But it is not without responsibilities. You’ve probably seen those cutesy sayings like, “The best part of being a grandparent is spoiling your grandchildren and being able to give them back at the end of the day.”

That’s funny and true to an extent, but I think that reduces the role of grandparents too much. I think grandparents are essential, and you are blessed if you have or had one in your life. In fact, the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.”

I certainly do enjoy treating my granddaughters, but I want to be more than a soft touch for cookies and toys. So what kind of grandma do I want to be? What do I want to do for my grandchildren? What do I want to teach them? When I’m long gone, what do I want them to remember about me?

To answer this, I thought back to my own grandparents and what I remember about them. I was fortunate to know two great-grandparents and four grandparents. These are some of the things they gave me of which I’d like to pass on. They gave me a sense of who I was. They told me stories of who they were, where they came from, what their grandparents, parents and my own parents were like as well as telling me what their own lives were like. Through their stories, they picked up my little life and wove into our family tapestry and made me feel I belonged to something bigger than myself.

They provided good examples and passed on their faith. They were funny and fun. They taught me that although times change, people essentially are the same. They talked about bullies in school, boys who tried to get “fresh” with them, and mean bosses they worked for. They passed on their resilience. One of my great-grandma’s favorite things to say was, “Oh, kiddo, it’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” 

They also passed on their hope that there was something even better waiting in the next life.
They demonstrated love. I never, ever had to wonder if they loved me. I can still think back to times when I’d sleep over at my grandma’s. We’d lie in bed together, and she’d say let’s hold hands until we fall asleep. Or I can see my grandpap when we’d come to visit, opening his arms and saying, “Where’s pup-pup’s girl?”

So yeah, spoil the grandkids, but also give them something that’s lasts a lifetime like your faith, your hope and your love. 

This originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Northern Connection magazine.