A technical definition of “milestone” is simply an indicator of distance or, in the framework of a project, an indicator of the completion of a phase. If we view life as a series of projects, the second definition fits in nicely. If we loosen the definition a little, a milestone can be just about anything that marks a turning point in life, or a simply a major event.
My life has had its share of milestones. Youth is full of them, usually centering around school. I recall a ceremony and dance after eighth-grade graduation, and it seems that kids these days get graduation ceremonies after every grade. After eighth grade, I had the unpleasant milestone of moving far away to a new place to start a high school without knowing anyone. High school is, of course, a minefield of milestones, some of which I set off (whether on purpose or on accident) and some of which I avoided. Graduating high school and the associated experiences are pretty big milestones, and we do it all over again in college, which is just the advanced version of high school, full of treacherous, debaucherous and marvelous milestones.
After college, the milestone production slows down. Some people continue their education so they can relive the college graduation milestone, but after you do it once it’s just cheating. Career moves can be milestone experiences, though job changes happen so frequently these days that they’re as memorable as waking up in the morning. For many people the next milestone is marriage, though for some it is a long way off or it might have already passed. Maybe next it’s having kids, but what about after that? At that point are we relegated to sitting back and watching the kids enjoy their milestones instead of having milestones of our own? I guess for a while we share them with our kids, like when they learn to talk and walk, but when the kids start to think and act and experience things they will remember, we are simply spectators. When our kids get old enough to have kids of their own, we get to come down from the bleachers for one more milestone before we’re pushed even further into the nosebleed section of life.
I may be getting just a little pessimistic here, but maybe that’s because at the moment there seem to be no milestones anywhere on my personal road of life. I got the strongest pair of binoculars I could find and I still can’t see one. My last milestone came this week with the official completion of my marriagectomy — which was more of a falling boulder than a nice, shiny stone.
Now that I have gotten past that sharp, jagged milestone, I am looking for the next smooth, shiny one. That’s the thing about milestones: We look for them and in many cases need them to give our lives purpose and direction. Without them, we are often left flailing, desperately seeking something to look forward to. In fact, looking forward to something is what kept my relationship with The Roommate going before our divorce. For more than a year, we filled our relationship with talk of our big move that would come when she got accepted into a Ph.D. program. It kept us afloat and working toward a common goal. Once that milestone was passed, our roads just slowly diverged.
Now, my road ahead is wide open and flat. Not a lot of scenery to be had at the moment. Off in the distance I see an occasional shape that might be a rock formation, but so far nothing has turned out to be worth looking at. Maybe at this point I need to sit back, relax and enjoy a new kind of vista. The kind where there is little to look at or worry about. Maybe there is something to a nice, flat landscape that I haven’t noticed before, some beauty that I haven’t discovered.
One thing is for sure: It gets really lonely.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go digging for milestones.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at norme@dailysparkstribune.