The Man I Want to Be

In what might be the most emotional scene of all four Sherlock seasons, Dr. John Watson confesses his failings to Sherlock and his wife, or rather, the ghost of his wife, who — spoilers — died protecting Sherlock.

Watson explains that, were it not for his late wife’s prompting, he never would have gotten Sherlock out of a recent, near-fatal quagmire. “That’s how this works. That’s what you’re missing.” Sherlock thinks Watson is “just a good man,” but as always, there is more to the story.

“She taught me to be the man she already thought I was,” Watson says. It is — or was — the presence of Mary that let John aspire to something higher. Not mere virtue or some moral code. Worse, he betrayed that presence, he admits: “I cheated on her. I cheated on you, Mary.” After meeting a woman on the bus, Watson spent his days and nights texting her, even while Mary took care of their little baby. It wasn’t a physical betrayal, but a betrayal nonetheless.

As soon as she hears about the texting, a smile flits across ghost-Mary’s face. She knows what’s coming. “I’m not the man you thought I was. I’m not that guy. I never could be. But that’s the point. That’s the whole point. Who you thought I was… is the man I want to be.”

Shaking her head while smiling in the “it’s about time” manner that seems to be accessible only to strong women with foolish husbands (which, some might say, are simply all women with husbands), Mary only needs one sentence, one final parting gift, to do what she’s always done: Spur on her husband to become a better version of himself. “Well then, John Watson,” she says, “get the hell on with it!”

And just like that, she is gone.

Esteemed psychologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once gave a lesson to the Toronto Youth Corps in 1972. In it, he explains that he recently took up flying lessons, and his instructor told him that, when trying to fly east with a crosswind from the north, actually, you must fly northeast to reach your desired destination. If you don’t account for the wind, you’ll land lower on the map than you want to be.

“This also holds for man, I would say,” Frankl continues. “If we take man as he really is, we make him worse — but if we overestimate him…” To much laughter and applause, he reveals the full quote which, actually, goes back to Goethe: “If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”

This maxim should mark the backdrop of all psychological and therapeutic activity, Frankl demands. It is also exactly the kind of support Mary is giving to Watson — perhaps in death even more so than in life.

There is nothing more powerful than knowing someone believes in you. This belief in others need not, no, must not, just occur between husbands and wives, between fathers and daughters, between mothers and sons. It is a driving force necessary and accessible to all, if only we choose to spread it.

It’s true that, the closer someone is to you, the more sway their belief in you will hold. But an updraft need not be strong to still go up. Even small words can show us the doors we already know we want to go through. Doors to virtue, resilience, and compassion. Doors that could otherwise easily have led us to folly, selfishness, and despair.

I don’t know who you are. But I know you are a good person. You’re trying your best to do your best, and if you keep aiming high, you’ll always land right where you’re supposed to be.

Now get the hell on with it!