The process of becoming a PhD is measured in milestones. These are certain achievements that document the progress I’ve made since choosing my committee members (Fall 2008) through total dissertation completion (Summer 2013).
I have been in milestone 10 – committee approval – for about six months. I confessed my response to a particular committee member’s remarks by describing myself as a petulant child.
Last weekend, another member suggested changes that would require significant sentence-level editing. On Tuesday I just glued myself to the laptop and did it. Five hours of editing later, I’m ready to try for milestone 11.
Milestones help us in two significant ways.
First, they articulate where we’ve been by naming that place, tagging the memory. We use milestones like anniversaries and birthdays in this way. Events help us put regular days in context. For a while we referred to things as happening “before 9/11” or “after 9/11.”
During football season we use the game weekends to define the calendar. “That’s Florida State weekend,” or “That’s after homecoming.”
Milestones give us names to help distinguish one day or date from another. For example, Charlie and I have been married 12 years. When I think of year six, I’m not sure, exactly, when that was.
But when I remind myself of that July 4th in Manila, watching You Tube videos of Lee Greenwood’s "Proud to be an American," crying into my Budweiser, and instant messaging with Charlie, I remember year six vividly.
We had never been so far apart.
Manila is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time so when I was IM’ing Charlie it was 7 p.m. Wednesday for him and 7 a.m. Thursday for me.
He would say, “Hello, future girl. What’s Thursday like?”
I would say, “It’s coming.”
|Photo by LJR|
The second way milestones help us is to quantify our progress away from and towards specific life events. In every process there are expectations to achieve a new level. Milestones help define those levels and provide us with a road map. Milestones set expectations and give us something to look forward to.
In week six of my half marathon training I’ll run nine miles on a Sunday morning. That’s a milestone that predicts my level of fitness at the six-week mark. Though I have a hard time envisioning myself on the road for a nine mile run, I know if I keep the pace of workouts I have scheduled, my body will be ready for it.
These milestones in grief sound like, “three months since,” and “six months ago,” and “it’s been almost a year.” While right now I cannot believe it’s been three months since my sweet Nana died, I have a much harder time imagining myself saying, “It’s been five years.”
I know that day is coming.
I don’t know what “It’s been five years,” will sound like or feel like, but I know it’s coming. As sure as I know in two weeks my little HB starts kindergarten and high school graduation is coming. As sure as I know milestone 11 (school approval) and 12 (format and editing) and 13 (final committee conference call) are all coming.
Some milestones we race to and through. With others, we worry about the change we will undergo while slogging toward it. We dread them, fear them, or recoil from them. We work for them or suffer through them.
Someday I’ll use the phrase, “It’s been three months,” to describe another loss, or the phrase, “It’s been almost a year,” to describe another separation. I might say, “Ever since 2013,” to describe a credential or the history of something I’ve built this year.
These milestones are measurements. They quantify our loss and our progress and sometimes the one seems very much like the other.
What milestones have you experienced recently?