Milestone or millstone?

Milestone: a stone or post at the side of the road that shows the distance to various places, especially to the nearest large town; an important event in the development or history of something or in someone’s life

Millstone: one of a pair of large, circular, flat stones used, especially in the past, to crush grain to make flour; a heavy burden.

It’s my 60th birthday and I confess to being conflicted about it. Embrace or ignore? It’s actually impossible to do either. Friends have been embracing me all week, giving gifts, sending lovely messages, delivering flowers. Four days ago I arrived at work to find two bright purple balloons, one shaped like a 6, the other a zero, pasted to my office door. That day’s mail delivered two cards emblazoned with the number 60.

So, as much as I tried to ignore it, 60 stands in front of me, surrounded by wise and wonderful friends. Embrace it, they say (some quite loudly).

And so, I will. Sixty (which seems even more daunting in letters) you will be milestone rather than millstone.

I took some time this week to reflect on other birthdays that ushered in a new decade of life. When I was approaching 30 (which, so silly to me now, also felt like a millstone!) I wrote a newspaper column celebrating the lives of three 80 year old women. I admired these women because they had such zest for life. I will be like them, I promised myself. And here I am, faltering at 60.

I did embrace 40 and partied all year long.

But I started to complain about turning 50 three years before it actually happened. This week, reading through some old journals of those yearrs, I was suprised by my middle-aged angst. Now I look back with great appreciation for this last decade of my life. A good reminder that I don’t know what is to come, so why not be optimistic?

As my friend Ruth reminded me this week, ‘Better over the hill than under it.”

Better a milestone, than a millstone.