I measure the passage of time now in terms of hard-to-get fruit and vegetables — black cherries and avocados, peaches, good Midwestern corn on the cob, apples with local names and real bite, blackberries and nectarines and beefsteak tomatoes, morel mushrooms. I miss the drifting of snow, the budding out of trees, the apple blossoms scattered, first trilliums, first lilacs, digging in the garden, the smell and feel of good earth as it softens, first swimming expeditions, walking ankle-deep in creek water with the forest cathedral-green arched over my head. I miss the first blush of autumn on the hardwoods, the maroons and rubies and sunflower yellows of Ohio woodlands in full autumn, and the friendly, chilly-but-rarely-nasty North Carolina winters.

But time does pass. I missed peach season this year — I don’t know how or why, but it left a hole in my time. I am determined to get good corn and eat it — steamed and lightly salted, and maybe with a decadent bit of butter — before that too slips by me.

I am forty-two, and I can’t figure out how that happened. Fifteen seemed like it would — should — last forever, riding my bicycle with no hands for miles and strolling through farmers’ fields and climbing up and down Ohio hills. Twenty-four seemed like it would last forever, chasing two toddlers and working as a nurse and wondering if I could finish that first book. Thirty-one — that went in a flash, with a second book written, a first book sold. And thirty-two — that was just a blink. Leaving nursing, becoming a full-time writer on a the frailest of hopes — a three-book deal and my own certainty that I could make it.

Forty-two. Optimistically, I could look at this as a halfway mark, or less. Realistically, I probably passed the middle of my life a while ago and failed to acknowledge the moment. I think odd thoughts now; I look at the little knick-knacks that decorate my desk and realize that they are far more permanent than I am. That copies of the first paperback novel of mine in print will still exist when I don’t. I thumb my stack of Simaks and Sturgeons and think long thoughts.

We are transient creatures, no matter how permanent we seem to ourselves at any moment. Lost in moments of deep focus, time stops for us — time does not exist when I write. But that only means it picks up its pace when I step away from the story. The kids have grown so fast — one is an adult now, and that thought still stuns me. The people in my life have changed, so many lost, so many gone away. I wonder if I will have my hills and seasons and garden again someday.

And the stories. How will I write them all, and who will read them? And is there anything else I haven’t done with my life that is still waiting? What clues have I missed? What have I left undone?

The twenties were all about confidence and chasing forward, and my thirties were all about getting things done. So far, the forties seem to be about this damnable itch at the back of my mind that somewhere, somehow, I have left the iron on and I need to figure out where I left it, so I can turn it off.

If I could get them, I would take a million more black cherry seasons. I do not think I would ever tire of the passage of days, the movement of seasons, the change of light in the hills, the comforting sound of rain on a roof, rain streaking down a window. I do not think I will ever be ready not to be here. But I am forty-two. And maybe that changes, too.

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7 responses to “Forty-two”

  1. Jaye Patrick Avatar
    Jaye Patrick

    I’m eyeing the calendar suspiciously. It’s close to Christmas and next year I turn forty. I was wondering, at the moment, where the year went. Now I’m wondering where my life went. You’re right. Summer holidays seemed to go on forever as a kid. My twenties were full of confusion at what I was supposed to do. Now my thirties are almost over and I’m still confused. It always seemed to me that life was set in stages. The follies of youth up to about 25, then you settle down have children and establish your career, from then on… well, it didn’t quite work out that way. I don’t think anyone’s life is like that, but once I did. Life is what you make it, of course. I still consider myself young and probably always will. I’ll be outside the loop always and that suits me fine. I want to be different, I am different. I don’t want to retire at 65 with a gold watch and a handshake and then be forgotten. Nup. Not for me the patronizing ‘we’re sorry your leaving’ while they think it’s about bloody time… I’m out there and I always will be, poking the establishment in the eye and daring them to put me into a round hole. I’m a square peg and thankful for it.
    Thanks for reminding me of that. And reminding me that there will always be black cherries for me to munch on.

  2. Robert A. Sloan Avatar


    That was beautiful, Holly. All of those thoughts are so familiar to me except out of chronological order. I first felt that way at five.

    I never acted my age, never did keep in step with the world. Sometimes way ahead by accident, sometimes so far behind I couldn’t get to the starting point. I think back to other places and times in my life and get confused at things that aren’t there any more. I look at things I thought would last longer than I would and they’re all faded and worn out like something in a museum — not by centuries but by getting dragged all over the country through adventures.

    It’s not over till it’s over.

    Maybe there’s a pulse in a life well lived of looking back and looking forward, living in the moment or leaping ahead or glancing back to see what’s changed. The world’s not what it was and yet a whole lot of what’s been swept behind are things I’m glad got swept behind! The weird wonderful things in science fiction sometimes turn around into things under my hands that are real, like my laptop, that would’ve been unimaginable when I was ten and is the ultimate writing machine and a window on a world that’s gone quietly beautiful in its corners.

    There are lemons in Puerto Rico that are sweet as oranges, a girl at the shelter got some from her family and gave me one and I ate it, and she was right.

    There are always more novel ideas than there is time to write them and that’s a great thing about it!

    And I’ve always got more Holly Lisle novels to look forward to and that makes it a great world.

    Purr! (bash)

    Robert and Ari >^..^<

  3. David Avatar

    Here, here! I’ve often pondered just how relative time is to our age. When I was young, a summer vacation seemed to drag, and I wondered if Christmas would EVER arrive. Now, three months of the warmest season fly, and just this week I turned to my wife and asked, "Is it October already?" As the years are dispensed from the gumball machine called life, those that remain begin to take on increasing significance. I find myself wanting to chew the remaining gumballs slowly and savor the flavor while it’s there. Zen and physics teach us that all we have is now. Time is a string of nows, and I hope that this life is but one of many at which I get a shot. But just in case, I don’t intend to let the present slip by without saying hello to it and thanking it for coming my way.

  4. Linda Avatar

    What a wonderful essay on aging! I’ve been thinking (much less eloquently than you) about that subject a lot lately. That makes sense, since my children moved out within a couple of months of each other and I will turn 50 next year. Thanks for the reminder about the really important stuff.

  5. Cheryl Peugh Avatar
    Cheryl Peugh

    You have just put into eloquent words the feelings I’ve been having this past year after turning forty-one. In a way, it’s kind of an odd thought that people’s attitudes and feelings could be that universal. We have a tendency to think of our thoughts and feelings as being more unique than that.

  6. John R. Jusayan Avatar
    John R. Jusayan

    I’m not sure why, but your entry made me think of Bilbo’s poem "I sit beside the fire and think" in Fellowship of the Ring.


  7. Kay House Avatar
    Kay House

    Sounds pretty good to me, Holly, and rather like some of the wisest of May Sarton’s later work, with a different definitely Holly Lisle stamp on it that tastes different. Good for you, and may next year’s day be much happier all ’round. Have some blackberries, and some chocolate, and enjoy every one of those fruits, whether from branch, or from vine, or from the meditations of your heart.

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