I was thinking about the stages of life the other day. Oh, I know that a number of social scientists, psychologists, social workers, sociologists, and others in their profession have examined this topic. But I was thinking more about my own stages of life, particularly as an adult.
I can look back on my life and there are at least three stages of life — based on the observations of others who shared their thoughts with me — that somewhat define me and my self-image.
When I was a young man in my early 20s to mid-30s. I was, for the most part, athletic and moderately well-built. My hair was extremely thick and was so dark brown that it looked to be black. I sported a mustache during that time. The first stage was the “Tom Selleck/Burt Reynolds Stage.”
Laugh if you want to but, during those years, a number of people, some not well-known to me, would comment that I reminded them of (a) Tom Selleck or (b) Burt Reynolds. Tom Selleck is 6’ 4” so the comparison lacked something at that point. But I could wiggle my eyebrows the way he did on his blockbuster TV Program, “Magnum, P. I.” Even Burt Reynolds was taller than me by an inch but either comparison made me walk just a bit taller, even though I knew it wasn’t really true.
Time passed and the dark hair turned white, I gained some weight, and the mustache morphed into a beard. Thus began the comparisons to Kenny Rogers. This second stage was, of course, before Kenny Rogers lost weight and had cosmetic surgery. One visitor to church said, “You remind me so much of Kenny Rogers.” I replied, “Oh, he’s one of my favorite singers.” She retorted, “I didn’t say you sang like him. I said you look like him.” Oh, well. Even Kenny was taller than me. I am 5’ 10” by the way.
Once I was at a meeting in Orlando, FL and went to dinner by myself at the Golden Corral near International Boulevard. Apparently, the staff there sees celebrities occasionally and a male employee came by my table and said, “Sir, I don’t want to bother you, but could I have your autograph?” I said, “Sure, but I’m not who you think I am.” He asked, “Who do I think you are?” (Seriously, he really did ask that question.) I said, “I don’t know but it doesn’t matter. I’m not him.” I should have just signed Kenny Rogers’ name and he would have been thrilled. Alas, I missed an opportunity.
Then there is my third state of life. One summer my wife and I were vacationing on the Gulf Coast, and I was under an umbrella reading a book. I felt a pair of eyes on me and glanced up to see what I took to be a 6-year-old boy staring at me. I greeted him with, “Well, hello there.” He looked around to see if anyone was listening, leaned toward me and whispered, “Are you Santa?”
I put my finger to my lips, looked around at who might be close and whispered back, “Shhhh. Don’t tell anybody. I’m on vacation.” The kid was so excited, I swear he began to vibrate. Hoping from one foot to another, he said, “I won’t! I promise I won’t!” “Okay,” I said. “Continue to be a good boy and I’ll see you next Christmas.” He smiled the smile of the truly blessed and ran as fast as he could to find, I assume, his parents. I can hear him saying, “I met the real Santa! He’s on vacation and doesn’t need a pillow!”
He was the first of many who began to make the connection with me and Santa. After a while, I began to be annoyed by the comparison. After all, it’s a big drop-off from Tom Selleck to Santa Claus and my ego felt it. After hearing me grumble for several Christmas seasons, my exasperated wife said, “Either lose some weight, shave the beard, or just accept it.” I grumbled for a couple more seasons and finally gave in. I bought a Santa suit. This Christmas season, I intend to ride my Harley-Davidson, in my Santa suit, and wave to the kids. Why not?
I don’t know if there’s a fourth stage of my adult life or not. If there is, I’m a bit afraid of what it might be. The thing is, I am well aware that I never looked like Selleck, Reynolds, or Rogers. And, for better or worse, I have to admit that the Santa comparison comes close.
I do take solace that somewhere, there is a guy in his late 20s or early 30s who is still telling his friends, “I gotta tell you, man … Santa is real! I saw him on vacation in Destin, Florida.” I just hope they don’t lock him away.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) and may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]