It’s Valentine’s Day! Bring on the chocolates, balloons, cards, wildly romantic gestures, and sappy romantic comedies (that we all pretend to hate, but secretly love). This time of year has us all lamenting or celebrating relationships statuses, pondering what-ifs, and holding those we love even closer.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about love—there is something about all the holiday candy and hearts which will do that to a person. As I’ve been thinking, I keep falling back to Frances and David Pannill.
They are not famous. I have never met them. I do not know their entire story. But, I’ve seen their graves side by side. The dates inscribed say that they both passed away in 1823, but as I think about what I need to hear about love today I think of them.
Now, everyone loves a good love story, but the truth is that I don’t know this story. All I know is what Frances and David left behind, and that is the proof of their love. I know that it might be shocking on Valentine’s Day, but the inscriptions on their tombs teach each of us–not just couples–how to love. Frances and David leave an example of two important aspects of love: being fully present, and being vulnerable to another.
Sacred to the memory of Frances Wikoff Pannill who died 1823, aged 33 years.
She was an affectionate Daughter, tender Wife, and a devoted Mother.
The inscription on the headstone of Frances shows a woman who was truly present to the other. I love the fact that each description of her has such a beautiful modifier: affectionate, tender, and devoted. It says something about the way in which she was there for others. Moreover, each title that describes Frances is capitalized as if show that to each of her loved ones she was entirely theirs and entirely present for them. To each loved one, she ignored the world and gave them her entirety becoming for them Daughter, Wife, or Mother.
I think to the people who I interact with on a daily basis. My classmates, my family, my brothers– how many of them would describe me as truly present to them? How many might say I was distracted? How often am I truly listening to the other, and fully offering my heart to them? I’m sure Frances wasn’t perfect—I mean no one is perfect—but her loved ones were so touched by her life that they capture in words what she was to them: fully present, and fully loving to each relationship she cultivated.
Sacred to the memory of David Pannill who died in 1823 aged 39 years.
His insurmountable grief for the loss of his beloved wife caused his death.
Her husband, David, offers something just as striking: true vulnerability. What I often think of as love, particularly around this time of year, is externally focused: gifts, dinners, romance, hugs, etc… Love seems outward, like just an action that we perform for the world to see. I am not sure though that captures the other aspect of love, the internal: letting someone into your heart to take hold of it. This is a dangerous idea. Letting someone in–being truly vulnerable–means we open ourselves to hurt. David’s gravestone shows us the danger of such a choice; he suffered insurmountable grief at the loss of his love.
The strange thing is that I find a lot of hope in the words on his tomb, and I find it resonates with my own hopes for the way in which I interact with the world. I want my heart to be broken deeply like his heart was broken, because it proves that I can love deeply. I want my heart to break every time I hear about racism, yet another shooting, acts of terrorism, military action, and similar news stories. I also want my heart to break with grief over the personal suffering of my friends, my family, and those with whom I work. Of course, I want to hold the Hope that God will walk me through the suffering, so no grief will be truly insurmountable. But a heart that breaks, is a heart that feels truly and deeply. What more could I want than that?
So as Valentine’s Day is here, bring on the chocolates, balloons, cards, wildly romantic gestures, and even the sappy romantic comedies. But let’s do more than that. Let’s take a moment to think about the status of our relationships with family, friends, loved ones. Let’s ponder for a moment the what-ifs involved in truly loving others, and the closeness or distance at which we hold others in our lives.
If I passed away today, would my friends, family, loved ones, or even my tombstone say that I was fully present and vulnerable to those I love?
Cover Image Blue Love, by Flickr User Lili Vieira de Carvalho, via Flickr Creative Commons, is available here.