“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women” — Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
[Spoiler alert for Sherlock fans]
[Spoiler alert for Sherlock fans]
[And one more time, spoiler alert for Sherlock fans]
At the end of episode 2, season 4 of Masterpiece Theater’s Sherlock, there was a dialogue between Sherlock and Watson about Watson’s dead wife, Mary. There’s too much to explain background-wise, but suffice to say that in this scene Watson was confessing both to Sherlock and to his dead wife that while Mary was still alive he had had an affair (of sorts) with a woman he met on the bus. He was tortured with that memory. There was an insight in their dialogue that led to a reflective exchange between my wife, Patti, and me later the next night.
Here’s the part of that dialogue I wish to highlight:
Watson: She was wrong about me.
Sherlock: Mary? How so?
Watson: She thought that if you [Sherlock] put yourself in harm’s way, I’d rescue you. Or something. But I didn’t, until she told me to. And that’s how this works. That’s what you’re missing.
She taught me to be the man she already thought I was. Get yourself a piece of that.
[…Watson then confesses his affair to the ghost of Mary]
Watson to Mary: That’s all it was. Just texting. I’m not that man you thought I was. I’m not that guy. I never could be. And that’s the point. That’s the whole point. The man you thought I was is the man I want to be.
Mary: Well then, John Watson, get the hell on with it…
Brilliant. Unquestionably true in my life. “The man you thought I was is the man I want to be.”
That phrase, rightly understood, has a very particular meaning for me. In fact, I know many, many men who would say much the same as I do here. While I cannot say what I am for her in this regard, I can say what she is for me. Here’s the gist of what I said to Patti later, as I captured and expanded on it in my journal. I share it because my wife is a living witness whose story I wish to tell as I am able. She, imperfect in her humanity, has taught me more of the Way of Perfection than any other one person. How can I keep from writing?
+ + +
It’s not simply that you want me to be something I’m not, which can be toxic were it accompanied by your constant frustration, nagging, by seething anger and resentment when I fail because, in reality, you despise these things in me. Were you that way, I would never want to become what you hope from me. And if I did become it, I would be only a chimera, a distorted reflection of your own needs.
Neither is it that you wish me to be who you want for your benefit, to extract what you want out of me. Or that you want me to be what you know I could never be. Or again, neither do you charge me to change by being manipulative, coercive, employing the weapons of guilt or exploiting my weaknesses against me. I’ve seen those before at work in couples or whole families, and it’s bitter poison, the stuff of a suffocating, crushing, life-sucking and joyless marriage and family life.
No, why you motivate me so powerfully, so effectively is because you love me. Plain and simple. You see in me what I can be, awakening me to God’s dream for me. You know me, know who I am all too well, and you see so many things — great and petty — that inhibit me from becoming who I am to be. Because you love me, you see, and you want me free. You see so well the chains that keep me from becoming who I was meant to be, because you listen so long, so deep. And you kiss my chains, you slip your hands between mine, into those chains with me, and you show me the key to unlock them. It was just beneath my hands, but I never saw it. I miss so many things.
And my limits, so many, slowly migrating, sometimes expanding, other times receding, still other times exactly where they were from the start. I know you’ll be a saint for them, grueling patience, relieved by occasional gut laughs together that make us cry.
At times, you’ve known your love must be tough, direct, precise. You grabbed my tie and shook me, looking deep into my eyes as only you can, and said: “This is who you were made to be. You know it’s true. Do it. Don’t let fear keep you down. Your family needs you to be strong. Be a man.” The only reason I finished my PhD. Your eyes, His eyes.
You pray over my chains. You pray for rain on the drought. You call on the Angels to drive away the demons of doubt and fear, of despair and lust, of hate and unforgiveness, of self-loathing and mediocrity. You dismantle the armor, break up the hard clods and clear the stones. You see what I should have known, but never did and, instead of shaming or blaming, you say: “Here, see, look at true beauty; understand the liberating order God has made; a path of life; taste what hope is; be gentle and know that strength is only thus wrought rightly.”
You listen me into wisdom, sing me into peace, gift me into outward love. You never let me get away with what I should never get away with. Highest, greatest of all: you brought to me the gift of children who, with your motherhood, recreated fatherhood in/for me, rebirthed childhood, resurrected wonder and awe and simple joy and spontaneity and so many of my favorite things life had trampled on.
It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man – even with all his sharing in parenthood – always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother. — St John Paul II
“The man you thought I was is the man I want to be” not because you demanded it, commanded it, but because you inspired it. God breathed life into Adam before He made Woman, but He has breathed life into the New Adam through the New Eve. Likewise, He has breathed life into me through you, with you, in you. Deo gratias.
Tom: The man you thought I was is the man I want to be.
Patti: Well then, Tom Neal, get the hell on with it…