Life’s big milestones, those within, and returning

by | Jul 31, 2023 | Faith, Writing and Reading | 4 comments |

BIG milestones

In Your Story Matters, Leslie Leyland Fields gives this advice to a beginning memoirist: “Make a time line for every five to ten years of your life (depending on how old you are), marking important events: places you’ve lived, jobs you’ve held, major events in your family.” Milestones. See my reviews of Leslie’s wonderful book here and here.

In some ways each important event is a milestone, a stone set alongside your life path to physically mark the distance to a particular place or metaphorically mark a significant change or stage in development. A new chapter, turning point, breakthrough, discovery, landmark, anniversary or “big” birthday.

If we were writing an autobiographical memoir, marking the stages of life, we’d place a BIG milestone at the end of our student years—graduation, when we’re like this budding zinnia pictured above entering into our adult lives—and another BIG milestone when we’ve completed our careers and family lives, hopefully only slightly battered like the sunflower above center. The next big milestone comes after work-family life ends and before death, the final stage, like the coneflower shorn of pedals and gone to seed pictured above right.

Milestones within

When sharing thoughts about life’s milestone changes, I often refer to Parker Palmer’s The Active Life, which I wrote about here. I first read The Active Life in the mid-90s when I was in my early forties and newly divorced. Upon turning 50, a little over two decades ago, I read the book again. After 25 years teaching at the same school, I had taken a new job. I sold my house and moved half way across the country. Since my two children had graduated from college and high school respectively and both had left home that year, I would live by myself for the first time in my life.

An age milestone, new job, new location, new living situation—except for the march of time, these changes were mostly my choice. Even so, I needed help making sense of it all, you know, the LIFE thing, and as long as we’re being honest here, the DEATH thing, too. Change like this brings us closer to our mortality.

I knew my new job and living situation would bring creativity and risk. If I didn’t embrace both, I wouldn’t experience a truly active life. Before the change, life was busy, exhausting, work-filled and without much time to think. This new, more balanced life allowed me to integrate action with contemplation.

In The Active Life, Parker Palmer writes that the tug-of-war between action and contemplation in Western culture is long-standing. He notes the ancient Greeks’ reverence for contemplative philosophy and the story of Mary and Martha, then the shift towards action with the Age of Exploration and Enlightenment, the rise of science, the Industrial Revolution, urbanization and technology.

Why this historic tension? “Contemplation and action ought not to be at war with one another,” Palmer writes, “and as long as they are, we will be at war within ourselves.”

Now well into retirement, I watch the sunset at Vanaprastha. Action has shifted more towards contemplation. I have time to pursue my curiosities and write. It is a mission that not only nurtures me but also nurtures others when I publish—at least that’s my goal.

Returning milestones

As I took the three pictures above, I thought about what Parker Palmer calls the spirituality of work, creativity, and caring. Work sends me back to the slightly battered sunflower’s milestone, creativity to the budding zinnia’s, and caring to the coneflower gone to seed. Ah, those seeds, lovingly shared with others. 

We can return to previous milestones and revisit those within, but we cannot leap forward. As Leslie Leyland Fields notes, referring to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, life does indeed have a timeline of memories, metaphors, and milestones.

Link up with Five Minute Friday:


  1. Gary Fultz

    I teeter-totter between doing and reflecting. My default is adventuring and making milestones for me is a very intentional process…I am just past the training wheels on that one.

    • Carole Duff

      Ah Gary, how I love your honest humility!

  2. Malcolm McKinney

    Milestones, I have had at least 50 different jobs in my life. OkMy milestones are moving frome one stat to another.
    A different scale:

    The Father, The Child and the Man

    My father he’s a good man
    And he’s raised his family right
    I can hear his voice in mine
    When I wish my girl goodnight
    I know he’s had his problems
    Lord, I still have a few
    But I’ve realized he’s just a man
    And that’s all I am too
    Though he’s reached his autumn years
    The oak’s still standing tall
    And I will be there with him
    As the leaves begin to fall

      It seems a few short years ago
      I was just a kid
      And I paid great attention
      To the things my father did
      Now I have a family of my own
      And I’m mindful how the twig is bent
      The tree is surely grown
      So I try with all my heart to do
      The best job that I can
      With the father, child and the man

    My daughter has her mother’s charm
    A blessing in disguise
    Cause old men, kids and animals
    Are drawn to her like flies
    She’s young and smart and stubborn
    Living fancy free
    But there’s a tougher side to teenage life
    Not too hard to see
    And we both have faced those conflicts
    And the stark uncertainty
    Between heaven and the heartbreak
    And responsibility


    Yes it seems a few short years ago
    I was just a boy
    But that boy he’s still a part of me
    Playing with my toys
    And this father loves his daughter
    I wish her all the best
    And I’ll be her dad for comfort
    And I’ll be her dad for rest
    This old man’s got a ton of chores
    Choices that he’s made
    Promises he’d best fulfill
    Bills that must be paid

      It seems a few short years ago
      I was just a kid
      And I paid great attention
      To the things my father did
      Now I have a family of my own
      And I’m mindful how the twig is bent
      The tree is surely grown
      So I try with all my heart to do
      The best job that I can
      With the father, child and the man

    Malcolm McKinney

    • Carole Duff

      Lovely, Malcolm. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading/hearing more! -C.D.


Leave a Reply

Meet Carole


Let's Connect

Favorite Subjects