Milestones, Not Millstones

Mile MarkerI have experienced two life events in recent weeks that have had a major positive impact on me. One was my birthday late last month, my 68th. That is not usually considered a milestone natal day, but 68 has had significant personal importance for me over the past three decades. Each of my parents died at age 68 less than one year apart and 30+ years ago. So for many years birthday 68 has loomed on the horizon as an aspiration and a reminder. So when I reached that life moment recently, I was grateful for a couple reasons—one for living to see that day and one for having the opportunity to reminisce about my parents that reaching that particular birthday inspired.

Last weekend I attended my 50-year high school reunion in St. Louis, definitely a milestone moment by any measure. I attended an all-boys Jesuit high school (almost two hundred years old itself, by the way), and there were 212 graduates in my class. We have been most fortunate in many ways. Only 14 of our classmates have died over the past 50 years. Even though many of my confreres served in Vietnam, not one lost his life. Our alma mater has contact information for 180 surviving members of the Class of 1964, and well more than half of us took part in one or more events on the reunion weekend. The tone of the gathering was extremely positive since life has been very good for the vast majority of us and also because we have reached the “nothing to prove, but much to celebrate” time in our lives. Our class is on the leading edge of the baby boom, with almost all of us born in 1946. For much of our lives my generation has denied our mortality, first by not trusting anyone over 30 (an ancient age in our youth) to deceiving ourselves that 40 is the new 30, 50 the new 40, etc. I joked with some of my classmates that the best we can claim at this point is that 68 is not as old as it was in our parents’ day. So 68 is the new 68, but 68 nonetheless. And for me that is a cause for rejoicing.

These events made me poignantly aware of the mystery of time and the important role our perspective plays in our perception of time. Years ago one aspect of this mystery was brilliantly illustrated by Joni Mitchell in her song “The Circle Game.” But in addition to its circularity, there is also a clear linear quality to the passage of time as we are reminded by Five for Fighting in their much more recent pop hit “100 years.”

But in the end, no matter where each of us is in relation to life’s circularity and timeline, what each of us has is today—and only today—to live. And today is thus the most important milestone of all.

Leo P. DresselLeo P. Dressel is Head of All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, a PK- 8 Episcopal school in Phoenix, Arizona. He holds an M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, an M.A. in English, and an A.B. in Philosophy from St. Louis University. He is also the current Board President of the Arizona Episcopal Schools Foundation. He writes a regular blog, From Leo’s Desk.