Let’s start with a trivia question. What do the following words or phrases have in common?:
bomb, chronic disease, demonic, homework, influencer, milestone, remix, Roman Catholicism, swampland, unattainable, worthwhile
The answer in just a moment. I emphasized “milestone” because I hit one last week. Our 2017 VW Passat passed 100,000 miles. I go into buying a new car with the hope of getting 200,000 miles out of it. We’re halfway there.
It’s funny how we have so many “milestones” in our lives are related to automobiles. Think of getting a driver’s license (for me, at 16) or that first car (for me, a 1969 Camaro). Heck, getting the Passat in September 2017 was marked by another milestone — Hurricane Irma in Florida.
My wife and I were signing papers in the VW sales office when we noticed a long line of people holding propane tanks across the street. My wife commented, “Look at all the people getting ready to grill on Labor Day.” The salesman responded, “Are you crazy? They’re getting ready for the hurricane.”
We were new arrivals in the state and failed to make the connection with the approaching hurricane. That memory is now a milestone — or rather two milestones: our first hurricane and the purchase of our ’17 Passat.
The best I can tell, the Romans were the first to use milestones along their roads. I found a photo of a milestone after the Roman era marking the distance to “London.”
There are two definitions of “milestone,” according to Apple Dictionary:
1) A stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place.
2) An action or event marking a significant change or stage in development.
Synonyms of “milestone” include climacteric, climax, corner, landmark, milepost, turning point, andwatershed.
As a hospice and nursing home chaplain, I observed many milestones in people’s lives. The most obvious milestone for the patient and their family is the event of the death itself. But there were also milestones leading up to the death.
I would hear about the milestone of someone’s diagnosis, “I will never forget sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing ‘You have cancer.’” Or the milestone of the day someone entered a nursing home. A turning point at which the patient loses their freedom, and the caregiver is freed from the burden of constant caregiving.
Use rituals instead of stones
I am a fan of using rituals to mark milestones in our lives. For a chaplain, of course, that can include a prayer at the bedside after the patient takes their last breath.
When my parents sold the home they had lived in for almost 40 years, I felt it was important to mark the milestone. Mom and I picked up Dad at the nursing home and went to the house before the closing to sell it.
I pushed Dad in his wheelchair from room to room, and we recalled the people and events that took place in each. We had a prayer of thanksgiving. We wept.
So, what does “milestone” have in common with “homework,” “influencer,” “swampland,” and those other words I listed above? The first known use of each in the English language occurred in 1662. Who knew someone could be an “influencer” hundreds of years before the internet existed?