Last weekend, Bryan and I took part in marriage preparation, often called pre-Cana after this Gospel story, at Boston College. For those who are unfamiliar, all couples getting married in the Catholic Church have to complete some sort of marriage preparation program prior to their wedding date.
The experience was much more low-key and enjoyable than we expected. We were not forced to prove our Catholic orthodoxy, or share our most intimate thoughts with a priest or a random couple. Rather, we listened to talks by three married couples on various topics, and then went on walks together to discuss how to handle certain issues. This may seem silly- after all, couldn’t we have just done this on our own at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir? Well, not exactly. As participants in a program, we were removed from our work and other concerns. Instead of our focus being Kate’s dissertation and a little Bryan, or Bryan’s experiment and a little Kate (which so often happens), the focus was entirely on the two of us. Furthermore, in a calm environment with prompts in front of us, we were able to talk about potentially contentious issues in a way that caused no hard feelings, speaking to each other with respect and a genuine interest in each other’s expectations. During such a stressful period in our lives (two of us trying to finish doctoral degrees, teach, and plan our wedding), getting to walk around a beautiful campus holding hands and just looking forward to our future together was a positive and necessary experience.
I think the most inspirational part of the day for me, however, came at the end. Fr. Tony Penna, the priest in charge of the program, said a mass for us. Keep in mind this was at the end of an all day program, so I was not expected to feel super pumped or excited about doing any more listening and reflecting. Yet, when the Gospel was spoken and it was the Wedding Feast at Cana, my eyes lit up and I turned to Bryan and was like “this is one of my favorites” and this, of course, peeked his curiosity.
When the wine runs out at the wedding feast, Jesus’ mother Mary notices and informs her son. Yet, she is rebuffed with the words, “My hour has not yet come.” Mary does not take no for answer and sure enough, Jesus performs a miracle. As Fr. Penna explained, Mary brings out the best in Jesus. She believes in him and prods him- perhaps she knows what he is capable of more than he does! This, he told us, is what marriage is about- two people coming together to bring the best out of each other.
Indeed, this is something Bryan and I have already had to do for each other. When I was nervous about teaching my first class on my own this semester, Bryan told me it was time to accept my newfound position and qualifications, and all that hard work I did to get there.
Think about it. When you are standing in a room full of people and you go up to talk to someone, you cannot see yourself as you engage in conversation. You may notice that you are moving your lips and your hands, or standing in a certain position, but you cannot really see what you look like at each moment. Your conversation partner can see things you cannot see. Likewise, you too, can see your conversation partner in a way that they cannot see themselves. In other words, our perspectives are limited. It is not physically possible to see everything going on simultaneously. How our senses perceive the world at any given moment is never exactly the same as how another person’s senses perceive the world at that given moment.
When you love someone, you see things they cannot see. They see things you cannot see. Therefore, sometimes you need to be each other’s eyes. You might be the one to first spot a talent in your partner, or draw them to something beautiful about themselves that they may never have recognized and vice versa. You might also help each other correct problems. If your partner is tired, you might be the one who observes that they have not been sleeping or do not eat a lot for breakfast in the morning. If you are anxious, your partner might be the one to notice that you have not spent a lot of time together lately, and need more downtime.
This also need not apply only to married couples or romantic relationships; this sort of dynamic is seen in friendships, parent-child relationships, and mentor-mentee relationships. It is also not a sign of weakness, but a sign of our humanity. Even Jesus did not figure out who he was and what he was capable of without the help of other people.
As I prepare to get married to Bryan this August, I know that there will be a lot of ups and downs in our lives. We will make mistakes, we will get annoyed with each other at times. Yet, through it all, my promise is to help make Bryan “better at being himself” and his promise is to help make me “better at being myself.”