One of my favorite actors, for a host of reasons, is Peter O’Toole. I recently viewed a video of him being interviewed by David Letterman in 2007. At one point in the interview Letterman asks O’Toole if he ever thought of an epitaph to leave the world when he’s gone.
O’Toole, who has led a rather colorful life of alcohol-related antics, replied that the epitaph came to him in a note from a dry cleaner in the 1960’s. He recounted the story of a favorite leather jacket that had seen all of his antics and was covered in “Guinness, blood, and vomit. The ususl.” O’Toole sent the Jacket to the cleaners and it came back with a note pinned on it, which read:
“It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.”
I love it!
It is the plaintive cry of the struggling sinner. O’Toole is a brilliant Shakespearean actor who has struggled mightily for decades with alcohol. In 1987 I saw him on Broadway in a production of Pygmalian. It was a graduation gift from my brother, and I sat in the third row, center Orchestra. O’Toole was wrecked, and I winced as I saw him struggling to carry on. If I was disappointed at first, I found myself silently praying and pulling for him. He didn’t quit.
He never has.
That’s what makes him so lovable and endearing to so many, I think. His struggles, because of his work, are out there for all the world to see. His response to Letterman was the perfect deflection of harsh judgement, if any were to come his way. The man knows his imperfections better than anyone.
On the night before Lent, it is a time for me to contemplate my own imperfections. As I contemplate them I think of how often my imperfections, my own shortcomings as a human being have enfolded me in paralyzing fear and guilt and have prevented me from becoming all I can be, all that God has called me to be.
I admire O’Toole. He has failed repeatedly, yet he keeps coming on. It’s a lesson that I have been slow to learn. The turning point for me was when my best friend, Father Steven Clark said to me that Confession isn’t all about my sins. It’s about God’s Love and Mercy.
It’s about the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who is waiting on the road for his son to return, waiting with a heart that is at once broken, yet filled with hope.
It’s about that heart bursting with joy at the sight of his broken son returning.
It’s about the father calling for a feast and begging for reconciliation within the family, a father wild with joy.
Yes, Lent is a time to focus on that which keeps me from drawing closer to God, and to work toward eradicating it. But the focus can’t be all about my sin to the exclusion of the sight of a Father wild with joy at the sight of me returning with my rehearsed script of unworthiness, and not even hearing what I’m saying as He calls for a feast in celebration.
I’ve learned that, too, by my own experience as a father. I know of my own wild and passionate love for my children, and know that God is not less loving, less forgiving than I am. My fatherly love is a mere shadow of the Father’s Love.
So, while I share the sentiment’s in O’Toole’s epitaph, my distress at one day returning work which is not perfect is tempered by the realization that a Father wild with joy awaits me on the road.