Some seven or eight years ago, in your average high school chemistry class, there were two shy and nerdy girls. One of them owned her personality spectacularly and made the most of being quiet, intelligent, sweet, and unfailingly kind, while the other one tried too hard to convince everyone that she was tough and mean, instead. (I’ll leave the deductions to you, Sherlock.)
…though actually, now that I’m writing about it, I can’t remember if we had chemistry together first or if it was French. Our French class was filled to capacity and beyond, and as a result, she and I were shafted the privilege of single desks and sat together at a table next to the door — facing the wall instead of the teacher. It was always a surprise when Madame called on one of us to speak, because we were usually deep in conversation with each other, and it was guaranteed not to be about chiens or chaussures or boulangeries.
We learned almost exactly zero French that semester, but what we did learn is that our friendship was clearly destined to be awesome.
(As a side note, we need to work on getting some better pictures of the two of us. I just don’t feel like an ’80s prom theme adequately represents our friendship.)
It was maybe three years later that an equally shy and nerdy young man showed up at St. Charles on a Thursday evening for choir rehearsal, carrying a guitar case, of all things. I was instantly intrigued. He turned out to be pretty much a genius, on track to graduate with a double major in math and computer science in just three years while interning very, very impressively in the IT department of a well known multi-level marketing company. He also had the kind of innate musical talent that causes guitarists with decades under their belts to weep bitterly. I found it hilarious that when he wasn’t writing and repairing detailed computer programs that I still only vaguely understand, he was busy being an unexpected sort of rockstar, too.
We were fast friends in our shared awkwardness, and banding together was sort of a necessity, because the two of us – still known around the parish as “the guitar guy and the violin girl” – were the youngest members of the church music program by at least 30 years.
Then I woke up one morning and realized that they were both going to the same small, private Catholic college in Grand Rapids, and they had somehow never met each other.
So I fixed that.
Just for fun, I sometimes like to affect an air of exaggerated smugness and exalt the fact that I originally introduced Jess and Michael, who have been madly in love for these many years hence and are now just one day away from tying the knot; but in all very serious seriousness, as the only person who really knew each of them individually before they knew each other, I have something of a unique perspective on their relationship.
Of course, their time together hasn’t been perfect. Whose is? They adjusted to each other’s funny little quirks in the same way the rest of us do: by being annoyed and indignant, huffing and puffing and grumping, until they eventually realized that they love each other as more than the sums of their parts — faults included. For example, Jess has been well known for her unwillingness to make important phone calls, whether to the bank or the doctor’s office, and to put off those interactions until the task becomes so daunting that it snowballs into a sort of paralyzing anxiety. Michael, who tends to be very logical and succinct and task-oriented, has no idea what the big deal is. It needs to be done; why not just do it?
On the flip side, Michael’s natural talent for math and computers means that he spent rather a lot of time indoors as a kid, and as a result, has had to be lured outside with matrices and differential equations the way you might bribe a feral cat with a can of tuna. He hates, with a passion bordering on neuroses, to be wet, dirty, sweaty, hot, cold, or anywhere within spitting distance of mud, sand, water, bugs, or direct sunlight. This has been a hard sticking point for Jess, who loves being outside almost as much as she loves books, which is… a lot.
If you’re thinking that it’s in pretty poor taste to write about two people you admire and start listing off their less than perfect qualities, then you’re probably right; but hang tight for just a second. This is all relevant.
Because, you see, they adjusted to these things. They were inconvenient and often frustrating, but like I said, Michael and Jess had already decided that they were in it for the long haul in spite of their imperfections; and just like that, things began to change. It was only a little at a time – certainly not a landslide – but at some point, Jess made a doctor appointment and settled her car insurance on the same afternoon without breaking a sweat. And Michael, bless his heart, allowed us to teach him to swim and to ice skate, in the same year!
He even agreed to lie down in the grass for one of their engagement photos, even though you can tell it’s quietly killing him inside and he’s wondering what he could possibly have done wrong to deserve this pose.
Most importantly, though, the two of them have continued this pattern of patience and humility through much more serious, earth shattering revelations than Michael’s refusal to get a dog or Jess’s insistence on clean underwear every day. They have weathered tremendous storms together and come out stronger for it.
One common piece of marriage advice is that your spouse ought to encourage you to be a better version of yourself, as opposed to letting you carry on in ways that are self destructive or damaging to others for the sake of avoiding argument, discomfort, or hardship. That’s how marriages succeed, little by little, over many years of care and sacrifice; and I just want to stand high on the rooftops and shout,
“Look at them! Look at these two, they’ve got it!”
Michael and Jess have a running start at the kind of marriage that inspires everyone around them to be better, because they’re helping each other to be better; and it makes my heart swell with love and joy to see how far they’ve already come. Two of the people I love most in this world are about to become a single, unstoppable force for good. It will be difficult, of course, and the great G.K. Chesterton once said that “Marriage is a great adventure, like going to war” — which is at once a terrible and a wonderful depiction of the sacrament. It is a thing of beauty. It is no small undertaking.
And I wish them every victory.