From the Editor: Fall 2010
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When I was studying in Wales in the late 1970s, the emerging theory regarding the origin of Stonehenge held that some of the rocks had been quarried on Welsh soil, then transported 240 miles to the Salisbury Plain. Included in this prehistoric feat was the ferrying of those four-ton stones across the Bristol Channel. As students we listened, torn between skepticism and wonder, as our professor explained the reasoning behind his speculation: The bluestone that formed the inner ring was found only in Southwest Wales.
But what about this particular rock could merit such effort? How was setting a bunch of stones in a circle possibly worth the blood, sweat, and lives of so many over so many years?
The professor—a Welsh nationalist with a vested interest in the theory—saw it more clearly. He called the monument “a celebration of the seasons and a bulwark against time.” He said we’d all understand someday.
After editing this issue of WM, I’m starting to get it.
When Allen Clingler ’02 suggested a “Milestones” theme for an issue in which we’d ask alumni how they celebrated “milestone birthdays,” I was grateful for the interest but about as skeptical as I’d been about those Stonehenge rocks being floated across the water.
I’d not even heard the phrase “milestone birthdays!”
I was more of the opinion John Wheeler ’70 expressed: “Reflecting on priorities, dreams [and values, duties, and moral imperatives] is something we should be doing all the time, and by doing so only during certain occasions we tend to cut ourselves slack and fail to adequately examine our moral and spiritual duties.”
But Allen thought alumni had something compelling to say about things they reflected upon, how they had changed, or the ways they had celebrated at the time of these “Big-0” birthdays.
So we asked. And Allen was right.
Wabash men from 30 to 90—from Turkey to Antarctica—wrote about how a “milestone birthday” had been life changing. A “Big 0” had inspired one alumnus to start a theater company, another to stop smoking. Several changed careers, while others changed the way they approached their lives.
And there were all sorts of celebrations.
When Frank Kolisek ’82 and his wife turned 50 in the same year, they planned to celebrate with a special vacation. When nothing worked out, they left town and did “nothing but sit on the beach reading books, drinking a little wine, and reminiscing about how quickly things are changing.
“Sometimes I think just slowing down and reflecting for a few days is the best celebration,” Frank wrote. “We never really take the time to do this in today’s hectic and fast-paced world. I highly recommend ‘just chilling out!’”
And that may be the greatest gift of these milestone birthdays—a reason to stop, take a breath, and to savor the life we’ve been given.
John Wheeler is right: as liberal arts grads we ought to examine our lives daily. We shouldn’t need a numerical excuse.
But I’ll take any excuse I can get.
Perhaps the best reason to pay attention to these milestone birthdays is the pleasant surprise that we still have friends who want to celebrate them with us. That’s the lesson I take from working with Allen Clingler on this “Milestones” issue.
Since Commencement Day 2002, Allen has made a point of staying in touch with the close friends he made here.
He celebrated his 30th birthday by traveling with them to a country that has enriched his life nearly as much as those friends have. The more I corresponded with Allen, the more I realized that this reunion in France wasn’t a one-time extravagance, but a testament of faithfulness to one another and an embodiment of le joie de vivre, the joy of life.
More than any stone set toward the sun, such friendships and the love that engenders them is our true bulwark against time.
Thanks, Allen, for a good idea, and for being living proof of why, sometimes, good food, a glass of wine, and a laugh with friends really do need to take priority.
Thank you for reading.
Steve Charles | Editor