The world can be a stubbornly magical place with improbabilities around every corner. I really wish I could travel back in time and visit my hankering teenage self and tell her about one particular miracle coming her way.
A few years ago, I was working out at the gym when I spotted a man who looked very familiar but I couldn’t place him. I asked if we knew each other and he said no. This took some bravery and bravado on my part, because the gentleman was the kind of groin-achingly handsome man, the embodiment of the kind of wholesome good looks that suggest both gentleness and strength. But I was just so sure I knew him, and pressed on. Did you ever watch “The Flash?” he asked. “Dawson’s Creek?” Nah. But now that I realized he was an actor, it came to me in a, well, flash. Here before my very eyes was the face I’d cut out of an issue of Soap Opera Digest about 30 years earlier.
Back in high school, like millions of others, I watched Luke, Laura and the Port Charles gang on the daily soap General Hospital. For reasons not entirely clear to me now or even then, it was so insanely popular its star-crossed lovers plot crossed into the wider popular culture. Hell, at one point Elizabeth Taylor joined the cast. I couldn’t get past Luke’s thinning perm, but I was crushing some on cast member Tristan Rogers, reasonably named “Robert Scorpio” on the show. Every so often I’d buy a Soap Opera Digest to keep my hand in, so to speak, and on the cover of one issue I was struck by the face of the handsomest man I’d ever seen.
John Wesley Shipp was a star on a competing daytime drama, Guiding Light. I’d never seen the soap, nor him. But this photo of him really spoke to every nook and cranny of my teenage heart. The young man wasn’t just handsome; his good looks radiated wholesomeness. He emitted the kind of kindness a self-diagnosed mousy girl sought from a gentle gentleman caller. I cut out the photo of this total stranger and taped it to my wall – a north star to inspire my club-footed heart’s journey.
Flashforward 30+ years to TV’s superhero “The Flash” standing before me. I didn’t know this man as an actor or crimefighting crusader. I only knew him as my once and still bright north star. Naturally the decades had altered the face a bit, but the years hadn’t withered the supernatural good looks and their powers I’d felt way back when. Recognizing how I recognized him, my sappy (and a wee bit salty) story gushed out of me. Though John Wesley Shipp is certainly very familiar with being accosted by fans’ prattling admiration, this might be the first time he’d encountered such animated awe from a person who’d never actually seen him act, walk or talk. For me, the experience was more like meeting the exact visage one had worn on a saint’s medal, or the imagined face of a hero from a beloved book from long ago.
All those years back, I’d been on the money in intuiting this real-life hero’s stunning generosity. Where most would have offered a faint smile and slowly backed away, John was more than sweet and gracious, happily posing for a selfie while I remained somewhat stunned by the unlikely encounter. If someone else told me this story I’d be incredulous, but the incredible was happening to me so all my world-weary skepticism was shattered.
Our schedules at the gym often overlapped, and John was always approachable and affable, and we soon became friends. When he asked about my plans for an upcoming Thanksgiving, I explained that my hardcore intolerance for fans of a certain President meant I’d be spending the holiday alone with TCM; the guy invited me to have dinner with him. And, of course, I did. We’ve had lunch together, he’s even been to my old apartment. Unfortunately, COVID got in the way of seeing one another at the gym, and our longstanding date to introduce one another to a few of our favorite classic movies. But I hope to ply him with hugs and DVDs one day soon at my new place downtown.
I truly love John. Not as a fictional superhero or as fantasized heartthrob, but as something much more heroic: a true friend. Having gotten to know the man, in reality he’s more valiant and virtuous than any rabid fan or dreamy teen girl could imagine. His good looks are matched by the goodness within. John is fun, loyal, caring and always up to fight for what’s right. I’m so lucky and grateful to be friends.
Friends. This brings me back to the magic and miracles the world offers up every now and then. Several decades ago, a girl already knew life had some sharp, rapacious teeth, all-too-ready to gnaw and bite. This middle-age lady knows all-too-well the world has fangs to watch out for. But, it also delivers such wondrous gifts in surprising guys and guises. If only I had a time machine to go back to 1980 to visit that girl and tell her everything was going to be alright. If only I could look her in the eyes and tell her I know her, I see her, and that I also know and see where she’ll end up. I so want to hug her and hold her and tell her about all the love, comfort and cool vintage dresses that lie ahead. Would she, could she believe me?
And what would she think if I told her that she would one day be friends with the kind, handsome face on the wall? She’d have to believe the world can be a magical place with miracles worth waiting for. I can attest that John Wesley Shipp has been one of its best.