If you travelled the roads of ancient Rome, you would likely see stone monuments called “obelisks” along the side of the road. These monuments were placed a mile apart from each other, so travellers would know roughly how far they had gone. They were call “milestones”.
When we speak of milestones today, we aren’t referring to distance, but to time. Milestones are the events that happen in life that mark time along the journey we are taking. Like ancient Roman travellers looking back down the road and counting how far they have come by the number of milestones they have passed, we do the same thing. We do it figuratively. Birthdays become milestones, as do anniversaries, as do graduations, as do weddings. Each one marking time. Each one reminding us that time is ushering us ever further along its road.
I passed a milestone yesterday. My youngest son Jack graduated from high school. As I sat watching the ceremony, my mind wandered up and down the road that we have walked together. I saw him again as a curly haired toddler, trying desperately to keep up with his older brother and sister. I thought of the hours and hours I sat on the side of a field watching him play soccer. I remembered times at the cottage when we would have to bribe him to get out of the water at the end of the day. When he finally walked across the stage and received his diploma my mind shifted from my milestones, to his. I wondered what his future had in store for him. What great milestones were to come in his life.
I recall the line from the hymn “O God Our Help In Ages Past” that says, “time like an ever rolling stream….” The stream rolls for us all, sending us swiftly into a future that is revealed one moment at a time. Today’s events will become tomorrow’s memories, and eventually they will establish themselves as the permanent milestones that mark our journey.
I celebrate the unfolding of time even as it brings a nostalgic tear to my eye. Surely we humans are not meant to be stagnant, but we are meant to live, to explore, to challenge ourselves, to grow, to achieve. We can’t do those things without accepting the fact that life will change. For all of us. Sometimes I wish time would slow down. Sometimes I would like to be whisked back into the past so I could experience a few key moments and milestones again. But I trust that the stream carries us to where we need to go. And I wonder at what life has yet to reveal to me.
C.S. Lewis once said these challenging words, “the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” His words sound harsh to the ear, but if you take a moment to unpack them, they are rich in meaning. Perhaps he is saying that the real hell in life, is to have the expectation that life should be easy or indulgent. Instead, we become the best versions of ourselves when we accept its challenges and meet them with grit, faith and determination.
The Roman traveller was likely grateful for the stone monuments that were able to situate him or her on their journey. I too am grateful for the milestones that mark my time through this life. They invite me to a place of deep gratitude as I consider again just what a great adventure it is to be alive!
The stream rolls on…..