Friday, July 19, 2019

Where Was I . . . Over the Moon

By Janice Lane Palko

When Paula Green, our Trivia writer, handed in this month’s trivia on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. putting the first men on the moon, I couldn’t help thinking about where I was that night. I was nine when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, so my memories of that big event are a bit foggy and self-centered; all my recollections focus on what was important to me at that time.

I am a child of the space age; the first generation to grow up with space exploration. President Kennedy launched the space program the year after I was born, and all throughout my childhood outer space played a part. I watched The Jetsons, My Favorite Martian and Lost in Space and listened to Dark Side of the Moon, Rocket Man and Space Oddity

When I was in elementary school at St. Athanasius in West View during a space launch or splashdown, for lack of an auditorium, the teachers would move all the students out into the center hall where we would sit on the floor in front of a black and white TV mounted high on a tall stand. On a fuzzy black and white screen, we’d watch rockets blast off or see returning space capsules plunge into the ocean—all in the name of science education. Most of the time, the kids just goofed off, pulling hair, girls whispering to one another or the boys wrestling. I don’t remember much about the other space voyages.

However, the moon landing was different. Like many families on July 20, 1969, my family was gathered in our living room in front of our black and white TV. I remember being sleepy and bored waiting for what seemed like forever, for the hatch to open on the lunar module. I remember my dad pointing at the screen and telling us to pay attention, that this was historic, that someday we’d all be glad that he’d made us stay up to watch this. I also remember my little sister, Joanne, who was four, crying and wanting to go to bed, but my dad insisted that she remain awake. I remember everyone holding their breath as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and thinking, “So, it’s not made out of green cheese after all.” My dad’s admonition worked; I still remember the moon landing, and yes, I’m glad he made us watch it.

As I grew older and space exploration became more commonplace, most of us only paid attention to it if something tragic happened like Apollo 13 or the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. I can’t remember who said it or where I read it, but someone once commented that humans quickly get bored with things of their own creation but never tire of God’s, how once we landed on the moon, most people lost interest in space, yet after all these millennia, people still gaze in wonder and awe at the moon, God’s creation.

I think that is a fair assessment. I was never a space enthusiast, and I think the importance of the moon landing was lost on my nine-year old mind, but I still marvel at the moon on a cold winter night or love to gaze up at it on a warm summer’s evening from my deck. However, fifty years later, I have a greater appreciation for the moon landing than I did back in 1969, and I wish I remembered more. What were the adults were thinking back then? Did people pop champagne in celebration or set off fireworks? What was conversation around the water coolers in America afterward?

This month when I look up at the moon on July 20, 2019, the adult thoughts that I didn’t have back then will be streaking through my brain: What a dream! What a challenge! What a risk! What an accomplishment! 

Our astronauts, our nation—we were on top of the world when we were on the moon.  

This originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Mr. Rogers' Legacy

Below is the article I wrote for the July issue of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Commencement Address

Where Was I . . .

My Commencement Address

By Janice Lane Palko 

We are in graduation season. And although no one has asked me to give a commencement address, that is not stopping me! Here are some things I learned after finishing school and beginning my career that might help all you recent graduates.  

Is That all There Is?  – Several weeks into working at my first job, I remember thinking: I worked hard all through school and landed a good job and this is all there is? Why was I in such a hurry to get here? I don’t care if you are pursuing your dream career and love your new position, entering the full-time workforce is a huge transition for a young person. You will have to deal with an alarm clock, traffic and minutiae that will test your patience. But take heart; you will adjust. I did, and eventually came to like and enjoy my job. Getting a paycheck helps with that (if you overlook the amount of taxes deducted from your pay). 

Talk About Diversity –  The buzzword at colleges these days is diversity, but when you enter the workforce, diversity slaps you upside the head. I’m not talking about adjusting to working with people who look different from you or come from different backgrounds, I’m talking about learning how to get along with the boss who removes his shoes and clips his toenails in the office (I witnessed this) , or the slacker who never puts paper in the printer when it runs out, or the petty thief who steals your lunch from the office refrigerator even though your lunch bag is clearly marked with your name. In truth, not one of us is the same, and you will have to learn to deal with some people who are annoying, inconsiderate, or downright nasty. But the flipside of diversity is tolerance. Working in the real world will help you to develop your tolerance muscles and make you grow. 

Just Because I’m an Adult Doesn’t Mean I Act Like One –  When I went to work, I assumed childishness was left at the schoolhouse door. Wrong. I’ve seen grown men throw tantrums because they didn’t get the office with the window. Or grown women shun other women “Mean Girls” style. You will encounter backstabbers, cheats, and liars, but you will also meet kind people, friends, and maybe even a spouse. I became friends with people who were older than my grandparents and found mentors who looked out for me and promoted me. Like you did in school, avoid the jerks and be the kind of person you’d like others to be.  

Finally, Nothing is Etched in Stone –  I began my adult life employed as a corporate secretary. I never dreamed that someday I’d be working as a writer. Most people’s lives, including their careers, are not linear. You will venture off your intended path, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. But whatever happens, there is one thing to keep in mind that will not fail: Always be the best you can be wherever you may find yourself. It will be rewarded in the long run, if not by others, but in the satisfaction that you will feel from representing yourself well. 

This originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Only the Lonely

We are in an epidemic. No, not the opioid epidemic but a loneliness epidemic. Several recent studies have revealed that nearly half of Americans (46 percent) sometimes or always feel lonely. And the youngest adults among us (18-22 years) are the loneliest group of all.

Why are we so lonely?

There are many factors, but here are a few that I think are contributing to making us lonelier than ever.

The first thing is cell phones. Several years ago, my youngest son had a job interview in State College, and I tagged along to spend the afternoon walking the campus and enjoying the fall leaves while he went on the interview. Afterward, I met him on College Avenue, which separates the business district from the Penn State campus. A stone wall runs along the campus side. As we walked past the wall to our car, I noticed that there must have been 40 students sitting on the wall waiting for the university bus and every single one of them was either wearing headphones or was bent over engrossed in a cell phone. No one was talking. It’s no wonder then that another study released last month showed that 51 percent of young Americans are single or don’t have a romantic partner—more than any other time.

Another reason I believe is because of changing family life. I was one of four children, and I slept in a double bed with my sister until I left home to get married. Yeah, we often brawled over who was hogging the covers, but we weren’t lonely! Today, families are having fewer children, and the ones that do believe each child must have their own room. Also, I heard someone give a talk on loneliness recently, and he observed how today it is the norm for people to grow up and move away from their family. He said that throughout history, people tended to settle around their family because it provided support and security, only leaving for dire circumstances such as war or poverty. It’s only been during the last few decades that people willingly move away from the people who know them, love them and care about them to live where no one knows them, loves them or cares about them. And then we wonder why we’re lonely!

I’m sure there are other reasons for the loneliness epidemic from the decline in religious affiliations to our fractured culture, but in the interest of space, here is my final reason. We are too busy to connect with others. In 2000, Robert D. Putnam wrote the book Bowling Alone, which detailed the collapse of our communities. The title derives from the fact that during the first-half of the last century, most people belonged to a bowling league, and now, no one does. But it’s not just bowling; all types of social groups have suffered too as well as civic organizations. Even the frequency of family dinners has declined tremendously. And Putnam gives one startling trend from his research to illustrate how our frenzied lives are isolating us. He observed that for every ten minutes a person commutes, all forms of their social interaction are reduced by 10 percent.

It’s hard to buck trends, but maybe if we become miserable enough in our loneliness, we will make some changes and, once again, begin to reach out to others. If you are looking to connect, put down the phone, volunteer, join a church or synagogue, host a family dinner, start a book club or maybe even dig out your bowling shoes and hit the lanes. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Where Was I . . . Sing, Sing a Song!

My husband received the book, Thanks A lot Mr. Kibblewhite, the Roger Daltrey biography, for Christmas, and I promptly snatched it and read it. Daltrey, if you don’t know, is the lead singer of The Who, arguably one of the best rock groups of all time, up there with the likes of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. One of the things that stood out in this book for me was how Daltrey said that the happiest time in his life was when he was working as a teen as a “tea boy,” a kind of “gofer” in an asbestos shed. Even though the job was tedious he recounts:

“We sang all day, every day. We used to drive the guv’nor mad. He wouldn’t let us have a radio, and I’m glad he didn’t because then we wouldn’t have sung. I can’t tell you what a difference that made.”

He goes onto say that one of the tragedies of modern life is that no one sings together anymore:

“In those days, everyone did. You’d be walking down the road and people would be singing on buildings sites, at roadworks, in garages, everywhere. When you’re singing, you’re happy. Singing changes your brain. It reduces cortisol and increases the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Some people have to take drugs to do that.”

Something as simple as singing collectively stands out as the happiest time in his life for a man who is a rock god and has performed for million and has earned millions along the way. But I believe him.
I thought it was very corny when I was a kid, and we’d be at my Grandma’s on Sunday night and Sing Along With Mitch came on television and my grandma, parents, uncles and aunts would sing along to the bouncing ball to songs like By the Light of the Silvery Moon, You Are My Sunshine and Show Me the Way to Go Home. But now as I look back on it, what a marvelous thing that was. Unlike Karaoke, where only one person is the star, everyone joined in together, and it gave us a collective culture. I learned songs that I doubt my children know. (Although my granddaughter demands that You Are My Sunshine be sung before her bedtime!)

I’ve found as I’ve traveled that singing cultures seem to know how to enjoy life more. When we went to Hawaii in the 1980s, we were made to sing all the time to songs like the Huke Lau, Don Ho’s classic Tiny Bubbles and the Hawaiian Wedding Song. In Italy, the Italians entertained us with opera and made us chime in with That’s Amore and Funiculi Funicula. In Ireland, they love to sing in the pubs and on tour buses, and a trip there is not complete if you haven’t sung along to Danny Boy, Galway Bay, or Tura Lura Lura.  

As much as I despised Mitch Miller back in the ‘60s, I realized that I learned a lot of those sing-along songs from that show. With so much division, stress and hate in the world, maybe it’s time we start singing together again. It’s good for the attitude, it’s good for your health, and it’s good for society. 

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine.