Chance. Does chance exist? Are we living an unknown destiny where we cascade in and out of the lives of others at precise moments that irrevocably alter us from that moment on? Or, is there a grand design where, if we’ll pay attention, we’re chosen for these events. This week we learned of a terminally ill five-year old boy who breathed his last breath while in the arms of a Kentucky Santa. This was surely such an event.

For fear of being thought of a “me too”, I hesitated to share two life altering moments in my life while playing the role of Santa in 1975. But I will nonetheless.

I was recovering from surgery to repair a fractured ankle and had, at best, limited movement; enough to keep me from being what would be considered gainfully employed.

The mother of a high school friend ran a ‘Christmas photo with Santa’ business at our local shopping mall and offered me the position of Santa. I’d like to tell you I had to pad the Santa costume, but that would not be truth. It fit very well actually; right down to the faux boots and shinny black patent-leather belt. One would surmise that the outfit wore me well.

My wife was hired as an elf and operated the camera at the precise time needed to freeze a moment in time for the progeny of each parent. Although each child’s response to a portly bearded man in a red suit was everything from sheer joy to equal terror. My only real complaint was, for God’s sake people, brush your kids teeth now and then. Think of a green odoriferous plume rising out of a cesspool and you’d be close to what I endured out of the mouths of many a child.

All that said, I savored the role and brought as much spirit as was held within my being to ‘be’ Santa more than the guttural Ho, Ho, Ho’s; so I sang. I sang to each child, or if in a group, I led a mini chorus of We Wish You A Merry Christmas or Silent Night. My shift was different; and as such, a local newspaper sent a reporter to do a story on my wife and I. I’ll never forget the article’s epilogue extolling that I was “indeed a real Santa”.

After the article hit the street, I was visited by, what I can only describe as, two Angelic events. On thing I didn’t mention was how my boss, if you will (my friends mom) knew I was someone who held strong religious beliefs, so she was quick to tell me, at the time of hiring, “…no Jesus stuff.” This is the place where today I would reply with the emoticon that indicates “you kidding, right?” I mean, what could Jesus have to do with Christmas? Anyway, her words echoed in my brain – because at this time of my life, I needed the gig.

One snowy Dayton, Ohio December day a mom brought her daughter to see Santa, and sat her on my lap. Such a sweet 7-year old girl who had, in no particular order, a short, but well thought out list of potential gifts. I don’t know what it was about this little girl, perhaps her overall demeanor of thankfulness, joy, peace, I don’t know, but it came over me to ask her if she would like a bible for Christmas. But I didn’t. My boss’s demand was instantly to the forefront of my mind.

It was at this moment, the little girl looked up at me and said, “and Santa, I would like a new bible for Christmas!”. My heart leapt while my eyes filled with tears. All I could muster was “Praise God”; at which time the girls mom stepped up closer and said, “God Bless you, Santa”. I felt like Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle) from the 1947 Movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”.

The next day, the little girl and her mom came back with a gift I still cherish. They had découpaged a Christmas card onto a wooden plaque with a hand-written Christmas blessing to the real Santa.

My second, and equally life-changing Santa experience, came just a few days latter. A school for young children with Down syndrome chose my morning shift to visit. The twenty-five or so kids ranged in age from 5 to 9 years old. They all shuffled in and sat in a semi-circle in front of me like I was the bhagwan shree Rajneesh; each eager for my every word. You can’t see me as I write this, but I am balling my eyes out at the remembrance of
how I felt, as it was I who sat in the presence of greatness that morning.

You see, the funny part is, we, as a society, put on such airs that, when we see genuineness, we’re drawn to it like moths to a flame, as they say. And I was drawn to them. I did the only genuine thing I could do at the time, I sang with them. Jingle Bells, as I recall. They all knew the words as they sang with enthusiasm, and it was good.

Then, one by one, each came and sat upon my lap with the most joyous of demeanor and thankfulness to be with Santa; yet, I, as Santa, was honored and humbled to have been chosen to be there. In them was no pretense, no sense of entitlement, just joy. In the same way bright sunlight reveals what is hidden in the shadows, their presence illuminated the part of my life that I held dear and, as it turned out, was fleeting.

There are no guarantees in life and we don’t often get a second chance. Some decisions are irreversible and there is no do-over. If you’re reading this, then I have good news; there’s time for your do-over. Only you know what ‘it’ is, but you can change the parts of your life that rob your joy, peace or fulfillment. The best way to receive joy is to give joy away. If you want peace, be the peace in someone else’s life. Choose to be chosen. You will be amazed.

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