Mayfield: The value of milestones
April 3, 2009
It was a minor milestone to be sure, but the announcement from my car’s odometer that it was beginning its 100,000th mile was enough for me to pull over and ponder over the many miles I’ve traveled in recent years. Just a few minutes spent on the side of the road but enough to take me away from my current concerns and worries and into that repository of memory that makes for gratitude.
Little reminders like this can bring forth a healthier perspective perhaps than the one we’re currently holding. With a constant barrage of bad news, these aides memoire serve as important guideposts for our journeys; gently or not, steering us past the depressing precipices that threaten to send us crashing into this current media-hyped chasm of despair.
A profound milestone occurs for my family this week as our second child celebrates her 30th birthday. Such an occasion spurs more than celebration. Those of us who have doubled that date and more will certainly muse over the speed by which we have all arrived at this landmark. Although younger folk certainly grow tired of we AARPers constantly wondering aloud where the time has gone, we still do wonder. It is as if our lives were movies meant to be screened over 60, 70, 80 or more years but have now been edited down to an hour and a half. We didn’t even get a chance to finish our popcorn.
Christianity proceeds this coming week into it most sacred time of the year. With the celebration of Holy Week, Christians around the world will encounter the milestones that mark the last days of Jesus’s life and in some mysterious way, revealed only to believers, they will receive divine guidance for their spiritual travels.
This week, the world’s Jews will experience the milestone known as Passover, creating sacred time in their homes and synagogues by reenacting another, ancient, sacred time.
One of the benefits of religion is the ritual reminders that make up religious practice. Being prompted by priest, imam or rabbi to reflect on the deeper things of life seems a goal worth pursuing. Most practitioners find such an activity brings a richness to what often seems mundane.
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In my own religious tradition, we have the milestones of Saints’ Days and Commemorations to affect an often all-too-brief interruption into our busy lives. This coming week several notables are brought to our attention including Michelangelo on April 6, whose monumental work continues to inspire spiritual sojourners 500 years after his death. The commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on April 9 is a stark reminder of the cost of standing by one’s convictions. Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, was executed by the Nazis for treason only days before Germany was defeated.
One needn’t be religious to see the value of milestones, of course. Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” broadcast each weekday on NPR uses its airtime to call to consciousness certain writers, artists and others who have impacted, sometimes in very small ways, the course of human history. A poem read, an archaic fact shared, an obituary intoned, can all be milestones for not just remembering other lives but rearranging our own.
Each morning we awake can be a milestone. Welcoming the day in gratitude for the past and hope for the future is a particularly effective means of commemoration. Finding a few minutes at the beginning of each day to sit in silent reflection, celebrating the sheer beauty of being alive ” savoring our breathing, thanking our heart, wiggling our toes ” can make us mindful of what is and grateful for what has been.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.