Good for the Soul?

Published: July 18, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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You can say good-bye to another time-worn expression. Apparently, dead men DO tell tales. And in the case of Val Patterson confession is good for his soul.

Before dying of throat cancer last week, the 59-year-old Patterson left behind his own obituary in which he gives clarification (and perhaps seeks a little redemption) for a few sins from his past.

“I have confessions and things I should now say,” Patterson wrote. “As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest.”

Great, Val, but did you ever make restitution for the safe or its contents?

“Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again.”

Patterson’s list is beginning to sound like an episode of My Name is Earl where a small-time crook and major league stupid guy hits the lottery just before a car hits him. In the hospital, Earl Hickey has an epiphany which leads to the creation of a list of wrongs he committed that he wishes to right.

Number Three on Patterson’s list: “I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the [University of Utah], the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters ‘PhD’ even stood for.”

One of the Utah man’s life mottos was: “Don’t apply for a job, create one. I had three requirements for seeking a great job; 1 – All glory, 2 – Top pay, 3 – No work.”

However, while Val confesses to all of this, he saves his real remorse for his wife.

“My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me. Now, to make it worse, I have robbed my beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy and fill our lives with such happy words and moments. My pain is enormous, but it pales in comparison to watching my wife feel my pain as she lovingly cares for and comforts me. I feel such the ‘thief’ now – for stealing so much from her…”

While I appreciate Patterson’s sentiment for his wife as well as relieving the burden from his conscience, his confession strikes me as more than a little disingenuous. He doesn’t really make direct amends, and it sounds like he could. And he doesn’t reach out while he’s alive to correct the record about his doctorate or make financial restitution to the people who were impacted by his actions.

But here are some questions that came to mind while I read this story; questions that I’d like your feedback on:

1. Is confession really good for the soul even after one is dead? (What if Jerry Sandusky’s abuse had never been discovered until after he left a written confession?)

2. If you wanted to clear your conscience, what would you confess to? Let me know and I will post your responses anonymously.

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