Culture of Life
Walking With Lily
Catholic Novelist Celebrates People With Down Syndrome
BY Laurie Ghigliotti
April 7-20, 2013 Issue | Posted 4/1/13 at 3:52 PM
Writing brings a celebration of special people with Down syndrome in the form of a new novel, The Things Lily Knew (Caritas Press), by Sherry Boas.
Boas, a Catholic stay-at-home mother of four adopted children, including a daughter with Down syndrome, was inspired to begin the story of Lily from her own family’s experiences and from imagining her daughter’s future.
The book, part of the Lily series (LilyTrilogy.com), has received positive feedback from critics and readers alike. "Sherry Boas captures our imagination, plants a sense of expectation and then draws it all together for a beautiful ending," Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix remarked. "It is marvelous the way Boas weaves in the action of God’s mercy and moving characters who are not all too willing to be moved. The story is infused with little occurrences, which, in the end, are not so little — depicting the way God so often works in our lives."
Your new book is a sequel to your Lily trilogy. What was your inspiration? Why continue with a fourth book?
My original inspiration came one night when I was tucking in my then 7-year-old daughter, Teresa, who has Down syndrome. I started imagining what our family would have missed if we had said "No" to the adoption counselor when she called about Teresa seven years earlier. And then I started wondering what the world is missing, given that 90% of people with Down syndrome are aborted. None of us really knows the answer to that. But I decided to launch a set of fictional characters whose lives are impacted in small and large ways by one life that almost didn’t make it into the world. That is Lily, a woman with Down syndrome, whose entire lifetime is revealed over the course of the series through flashbacks and the marching of time.
I decided to continue the series with The Things Lily Knew because I missed Lily and all the characters. They have become like family to me. I was told the same thing by readers. So, after departing from Lily for a bit and writing Wing Tip in 2012, I decided to return to Lily’s world, and I’m really glad I did. It has been wonderful to see that Lily’s impact continues in ways that even surprised me as I wrote about them.
Where did the Lily character originate? What made her story one you wanted to tell?
Lily’s character originated with my daughter Teresa, but has greatly evolved and is still evolving as the Lily series continues and more layers of her personality and experiences are revealed. I wanted to write Lily’s story because it is really a story about all of us. It is a story about how every one of us — regardless of our abilities and challenges, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and merits — are precious and indispensable, unique in our impact on the world.
Where did the ideas for your other characters come from?
Mostly from my own imagination. Other than Lily, who was directly inspired by my daughter Teresa, all the other characters are purely fictional. But even Lily is a product of my imagination, because my daughter is only 10 now, and Lily is an adult. It will be interesting for me to see if Teresa turns out to be anything like Lily.
Persons with Down syndrome are rarely seen these days because abortion is seen as an acceptable way to dispose of the so-called "problem." As the adoptive mother of Teresa, a child with Down syndrome, what do you think families and society as a whole are missing in the absence of these individuals?
We will never know what we are missing. But we can say this for sure: There is certainly a lot less love in the world. That is true, of course, any time a person whom God created is not allowed to enter our world. The Lily books attempt to show the impact one person has on generations to come. Although the stories are fictional, I truly believe the books capture an undeniable reality: Every life has a purpose; every person is invaluable. Aborting someone robs not only that person of his or her life — it robs the rest of us of something only that person could have given. There will, for sure, be other babies born, but there is no second chance for that particular unique individual, who was aborted, to impact our world.
In your stories, Lily is considered a central character, but not the main character because she does not change. The people around her change. How much of this reflects your own experience within your family and the people who come in contact with your daughter?
I think it is probably impossible to spend time with another human being without having that person change you. I’m sure Teresa’s life means something huge that I, even as her mother, won’t be able to fully know in this lifetime. But what’s so great about fiction is that the reader can get a glimpse into the profound changes that take place in the characters, revealed in a tidy 60,000 words, that don’t require a lifetime of living to understand or appreciate.
J.R.R Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, "Such is of the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere." In your new book, Lily is portrayed as having an impact on people not just in the present, but in the future as well. Lily has done great things, albeit perhaps hidden things, in spite of or maybe even because of her "small hands" — her limitations. What lesson do you think Lily’s existence and her impact on others have to teach us?
Love The Lord of the Rings! Another great quote from Galadriel: "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
Absolutely, Lily’s impact ripples into the future. If there is one lesson Lily has to teach, it is that love costs, and love is always worth the cost. I guess that’s two lessons. But that’s what each of the characters who narrate the four books ultimately discovers through various circumstances and events, all tied in some large or small way back to Lily’s life.
Even the title you’ve chosen suggests that there is much more to Lily than some might expect. Is your daughter similar to Lily in the impact she has had on you and others?
We are always surprised and amazed at Teresa. But I don’t think we will know, this side of heaven, how and how much she has changed us. The fictional character of Lily is an attempt to get our minds around that.
Have any of your readers shared with you the impact your books about Lily have had on them?
That has been a very rewarding aspect of having written these books. The characters become "real" to people. Readers really care what happens to the characters and are willing to walk along with them through their trials and triumphs. I have heard that people find the books healing, as well as entertaining, funny, emotional and inspiring. I am glad about all of that, because it means I have done my job as a novelist. But I would love to see the day when someone says she decided not to abort her child because she loves Lily so much — or returned to church after reading the books and understanding like never before the boundless love of God.
Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.
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