I Know You Are, But What Am I? 

By Janice Lane Palko 

The greatest wisdom consists in knowing one’s own follies. – Madeleine de Souvré 

Several times over my life, my mom referred to an incident that happened when she was a teen, something which captivated the country. On October 19, 1953, entertainer, movie star, radio and television broadcaster, Arthur Godfrey shocked the nation when he fired, live on-air, the handsome, young singer Julius La Rosa on his show, Arthur Godfrey Time 

La Rosa’s crime? Godfrey, the most powerful man on air, stated in a press conference after the firing that he had let La Rosa go because the young crooner had lost his “humility.” Could you imagine someone being fired today for lacking humility in this age where people are constantly flaunting themselves on social media? 

My mom often related that incident as a cautionary tale when I was a kid and either I or someone else would become too full of themselves, warning that bad things can happen to the haughty. That story had always stuck with me and always made me wonder exactly what is humility or what it means to be humble? I’ve never had a great handle on what it is, but in researching it, I’ve learned that humility is not being poor or meek or self-effacing. In essence, to be humble is to know your strengths and weaknesses and your place in the order of things. In spiritual circles, it boils down to knowing that you are flawed and not God.  

I also began to investigate the Godfrey-La Rosa incident and discovered something surprising. Nearly 70 years later, after the Godfrey-La Rosa incident, it’s hard for us who weren’t alive back then to comprehend what a big deal the firing was at the time. Godfrey, who had been a beloved entertainer since the early 1940s, had polished a down-to-earth, genial persona and commanded the airwaves, appearing up to six times a week on nine broadcasts over radio and television. The firing of the popular La Rosa, who was 23 at the time, ignited outrage and made him even more beloved. As a result, Godfrey became the butt of comedians’ jokes and a satire song by singer Ruth Wallis called Dear Mr. Godfrey, which skewered him with lyrics like this: 

Dear Mr. Godfrey, listen to my plea 
Hire me and fire me and make a star of me 
I will be so grateful if it can just be done 
Hire me and fire me 
Ed Sullivan, here I come 

Though La Rosa was painted as lacking humility, the story behind the firing revealed that it was actually Godfrey who was vain, controlling, egotistical and jealous of his young star, who was receiving more fan mail than he.  

Godfrey never recovered from the firing incident; by the 1960s, he was pretty much a has-been. He died in 1983 at the age of 79. Conversely, La Rosa continued to appear on television for the next several decades, including a 1980 episode of Laverne and Shirley and starring in the 1980s in a recurring role as Reynoldo on the soap opera, Another World, for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award. He died in 2016 at 86.  

It has been reported that Godfrey and La Rosa ran into each other on the street in New York City shortly before Godfrey died, and Godfrey hugged La Rosa, who welcomed the opportunity to bury the hatchet.  

In retrospect, Godfrey must have sensed deep down that he was a small man. Why else would he have cultivated such a welcoming on-air personality? But he must have felt so threatened by the upstart La Rosa, that he projected his flaws onto him. While the Godfrey-La Rosa incident was to a lesser extent about humility, it was more a lesson in human nature. Like that childish comeback, “I know you are, but what am I” this episode illustrates how we often project onto others that which we despise in ourselves. 

Regrets-I Have a Few 

By Janice Lane Palko 

For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!”―John Greenleaf Whittier 

Last month when we were featuring some of our exceptional schools, I started thinking about my school days, and for the most part, they were a positive experience. However, there is one thing I regret and that is not learning to play an instrument. As far as regrets go, I guess that’s pretty mild. I don’t have biggies like regretting robbing a bank, cheating on my husband, or posting an embarrassing video on the internet. I’m naturally cautious and have always looked at things I’ve considered doing through the lens of what will be the consequences of this or how will this turn out in the future? And will I be happy with what could possibly result from a decision or action? 

No matter how thoughtful you are, you will still end up in life with some regret. Acquiring them is unavoidable because, often times, they spring from a decision. For instance, I was a good student in high school but for a variety of reasons including monetary and lack of direction, I didn’t go to college right out of high school, I went to Duff’s Business Institute instead and became an Executive Secretary. I always felt I should have gone to college, but it just wasn’t the right thing at that time.  

Although I had some regrets about that, had I gone to college fresh out of high school, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and as a silver lining, while at Duff’s the exceptional grammar and organizational skills I developed there and while working, laid the foundation for my writing career. I did go back an earned my degree when I was 49 and that leads me to something else. 

According to psychologists, some of the biggest regrets people have at the end of their lives are: 

  1. Not spending enough time with loved ones. 
  1. Not trusting their instincts 
  1. Not taking care of their physical health 
  1. Wasting their life by worrying too much 
  1. Not taking risks.  

Regrets can be paralyzing for some. I’m not a therapist, but here’s my take on regrets. They are useless. Like the past, they can’t be changed. They’re just baggage. If you can’t get over a regret, seek help. If you can correct a regret, like not learning an instrument or acquiring an education, do it. But most important of all, live your life from now on so as not to regret things later.  

Lessons from Alaska

By Janice Lane Palko 

Last month, I went to Alaska on vacation. Before I went, nerd that I am, I scoped out where we were going and learned some remarkable facts about the state. Alaska has more land mass than the next three largest states of Texas, California and Montana combined. Alaska is so huge, if you superimposed a map of the state onto the center of a map of the continental U.S., Alaska’s Aleutian Islands would fall on San Diego in the west and the state’s eastern islands would reach to Jacksonville, Florida in the east. Alaska is so far west, portions of its island are technically in the eastern hemisphere. It has more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes. It is also the least populated state. 

Last Christmas, I was given Kristin Hannah’s fantastic novel The Great Alone, which is set in Alaska during the 1970s, and it illustrates how remote the state is, how great the emptiness there is, so much so that it has a sinister aspect. I knew all that going in, but that is nothing compared to experiencing Alaska’s vastness and aloneness. We probably saw 1 percent of Alaska, but for the most part, we saw nothing but mile after mile of mountains and eerie nothingness. While talking to residents, several emphasized that to survive an Alaskan winter, you must get into the sunlight and maintain social contact, or you could lose your mind or die.  

For the last nearly two years, many of us have been living our own “Great Alone,” we’ve been isolated from one another, and that’s not good as the rising suicide rates and mental health issues have indicated. Many of us have started to venture out, but for others, the world is still a frightening place. I understand that; I used to suffer with anxiety. But I have a greater fear. 

While we were in Alaska, my husband and I ziplined for the first time at Hoonah. It was billed as the tallest and highest zipline in the world. It sounded like a good idea when I booked it, but when we got there and saw how high up in the mountain the launch site was, I was thinking this may have been a mistake. It was a loooong way down. 

We took the 45-minute bus ride up the mountain to the launch site, where we were dropped off to hike down to the zipline site. On the way, we met a woman who was having some difficulty navigating the steep hill down to the site. We struck up a conversation and learned that she was 76, from Massachusetts, traveling alone because her husband had in her words “turned into an old curmudgeon and didn’t want to go anywhere,” and that she’d just had a hip replacement surgery in January.  

When I expressed that I was a little bit apprehensive about descending from what was equal to the height of the Empire State Building to the ground in 90 seconds at 60 miles an hour, she said not to be afraid, enjoy it. She’d ziplined six times in her life already. 

I did enjoy the zipline; in fact, it was the highlight of the trip, and I’ve thought a lot about that woman since. She also told me that during the lockdown, she made 200 quilts for charity and intended to travel as long as she could, saying “I’m running out of time.” 

I know life can be scary; it always has been, and it always will be. But you can’t crawl in a hole and hide. That will kill you as well—maybe not physically, but it will kill that spark of life in you. We’re all running out of time. We’re all on the clock, and we don’t know how much time any of us has until the buzzer sounds. So, do what you can, take necessary precautions, evaluate the risks, but get out there and live. We’ve already lost so much; how much more can we afford to lose? 

To me, the only scarier thing than dying, is not having lived. 

What does 60 look like? 

I turn 60 this month. I had to go back and look at those digits and ponder them after I typed them. They look so foreign. Me 60? Recently, when people have learned that I was coming up on a milestone birthday, several have kindly quipped, “You don’t look 60!” But after the third person told me that, I thought, Well, what exactly does 60 look like? 

When I was a kid, 60 looked ancient. That was my grandparents’ age. When I went to work, and a I was PYT (Pretty Young Thing), 60 looked like those old ladies in cardigan sweaters on the executive floor. Now, that I’ve arrived at 60, it doesn’t seem that old. Here’s a little secret for all those not yet 60: it’s not that bad. Sure, I’m not as svelte or supple as I used to be, but on the inside, I feel the same as I did when I was 16–only a whole lot smarter. I know a lot more; I figured a lot more things out; I’ve achieved a lot more; and I’ve come to learn what is important in life. I think you spend the first 20 years of your life becoming you and then the next 40 creating and living your life—getting married, having children, building a career– and then all of a sudden you’re rounding the bend and sliding into third at 60.  

If I could go back now and visit my 20-yearold self, I think young me would be delighted and relieved as to how I have ended up. I’ve been blessed with so much and by so many people, it’s hard to mourn the passing of the years.  

As I mentioned in a previous column, I was fortunate to go on a Caribbean cruise (before the coronavirus hit), and the ship was primarily filled with passengers who were 50 and up, and let me tell you, they were having the time of their lives. Sure, there were a lot of people on canes or were wearing knee braces or didn’t exactly look like Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, but they were enjoying themselves, with a sense of they had nothing left to prove. They’ve married, had children, had careers, faced obstacles, become grandparents and survived. There’s no time to look back only time to enjoy the here and now and make the most of what’s left of your life.  

Last summer, my granddaughter Sadie, who was three at the time, was over at my house, and she was playing at me feet. I was wearing shorts, and she looked at my right calf that has a varicose vein that runs down the inside like a lightning bold, leaving a constellation of three clusters of spider veins. She touched one of the spider veins and smiled up at me. “Grandma,” she said, “I really like the blue spots on your leg. They’re beautiful.” 

I chuckled. Only a three-year-old could think a spider vein beautiful. “Why, thank you,” I said. 

A lot like a varicose vein. In one sense it’s an unmistakable sign of advancing age, and on the other its simply beautiful. 


 

I had the great fortune to take a break from winter and embark on a cruise in the Caribbean at the end of January beginning of February. We stopped at 12 islands and in addition to enjoying the feel of the sun on my face, refreshing saltwater washing over me and the warmth of powdery sand beneath my feet, I enjoyed something else—freedom.  

If you have never been on a cruise, you may not know that there are people aboard, passengers and crew alike, from all over the world. In addition, the islands are inhabited by people who have mixed races of African, Dutch, Spanish, English, French and local Indians depending upon which port visit 

Unless they were presenting a false face to us or it was the euphoria of escaping snow, not once did the citizens of any of the islands we met stress that they despised Columbus, felt oppressed, or focused on what color skin they had or you had. We were just people. Different in skin pigment and cultural practices but just people 

But they weren’t ignorant of their historyand they showed us the impossibly austere huts on Bonaire, where slaves lived while forced to make salt. We saw the Hato Caves on Curacao and the soot from fires on the cave ceilings left from the slaves who had hidden in there from their slave masters. In Puerto Rico, our taxi driver proudly showed us the monuments to Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon and told us proudly that Puerto Ricans are a mixture of Spanish, Taino Indian, African.  

In Antigua the store owners looked at us in amusement when we asked them if they knew where we could buy more sunscreen, implying do you think with my skin color I need sunscreen? On board ship, it was no different. My husband explained some things about the Super Bowl to an inquisitive man from India while watching the big game, and chatted for an hour with a man from Toronto who had immigrated to that city from Trinidad back in the 1980s. We laughed when he told me how cold his Caribbeanweight cloth pants left him when he arrived there in December.  

People on board engaged in games, enjoyed music, laughed, drank, swam, conversed, held elevators doors, and dined with people who did not look like them. It was so freeing. There was no looking back to the past and all the mistakes made there. There was only now. 

So, imagine my sadness when I recently interviewed a black businessman who had traveled the world and told me that he found Pittsburgh to still be very racist. I couldn’t argue with him; I don’t know. I’m not in his skin, but if it is, I’m very sad. Not only for him but for all of us. 

In the Bible they often describe heaven as a wedding feast, but sometimes I think it’s more like a cruise ship where all God’s children from around the world are enjoying themselves, laughing, dancing and feasting and the lyrics of Bob Marley are playing: “One love; One Heart. Let’s get together and feel alright.”  

By Janice Lane Palko 


By Janice Lane Palko 

“Your life is heading down one path, and then suddenly, in an instant, it all changes.” Those words were uttered by a former St. Benedict Academy classmate of mine over the holidays when she came to Pittsburgh from Florida for a visit after not seeing each other for 43 yearsSadly, she was forced to leave our high school back in 1976 when her mother suddenly died during our junior year. Several other classmates and I were able to reconnect with our friend after finding her on Facebook.   [Read more…]

 I Get It! 

By Janice Lane Palko 

With the coming holidays and the turning of the new year, I’ve already started to think about some resolutions for 2020. I mulled over the same old objectives: get in shape, spend less, pray more, etc. Recently, however, I think I’ve come across a key that may supersede all of those and prove to be more fruitful and more life-changing in the end.  [Read more…]