Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Lily Trilogy

This summer I had the opportunity to read the Lily Trilogy by Catholic author Sherry Boas.    The trilogy portrays the life of Lily, a Down Syndrome child whose story as she grows into adulthood is entwined with the lives of her aunt, adoptive sister, and niece.   

I happen to have a 12 year old son, my sixth-born, who had a major stroke soon after birth and is moderately developmentally delayed because of this.   In spite of his challenges, and some medical crises and worries during his early years, he has been a joy to our family and has brought many graces.   Though Aidan is a different person than Lily, and my life is very different from the lives of the characters in the books, I felt many twinges of recognition as I read. 

The first book, Until Lily, tells about Bev, an old lady in a nursing home. We find out through flashbacks that she was a career woman who chose to be childless, but had motherhood thrust upon her when her sister dies of cancer, leaving her with her own three children. The youngest, still a preschooler, is Lily, who has Down Syndrome. Bev does not want Lily, but reluctantly, like Simon of Cyrene, shoulders the cross because it was her sister's dying plea.

Because of the way the story unfolds, we see how in her later life, the very burden she often resented has become a great blessing to her. Lily is a faithful visitor to the nursing home, a friend to many of the other occupants, one of the last solaces in her aunt's life. Bev fully realizes the irony, that the child she wanted her sister to abort has become the great comfort of her life, and she tells about her dependence on Lily with wry, unsentimental terseness.

In the two subsequent books of the trilogy, Wherever Lily Goes and Life Entwined with Lily's, we become part of the lives of Lily's older sister Terry, who like Lily was adopted by Bev in childhood after the death of her mother, and then of Terry's daughter, Beth. Terry is feeling trapped and bored by a stagnant marriage, but indirectly through Lily her faith and love for her husband take on a new lease of life, literally. Beth is battling some difficult issues from her past. Through the intertwining of their lives with Lily's, we are able to see the small, subtle touches of grace that end up having decisive impacts on their lives.

Lily is a strong, funny, and unique character in her own right, but she also becomes somewhat of a symbol, of the ordinariness and humility of grace in the lives of others.    

The books are told in first person, present tense, which seems well suited to this particular trio of stories.    Present events recall moments from the past, which allows for a flexibility that adds significance to everything that happens. Theis brings out the significance of little things, epiphanies that would otherwise slide by, and often seem to do in our daily lives.   Again and again I was reminded of how small things, small decisions, small acts of love, can have a ripple effect on the lives of other people, even though we are not always around to see the whole picture. 

Perhaps because of her own experience mothering a Down Syndrome child, Sherry Boas manages to be realistic in an understated, vivid way about the small but piercing aggravations as well as the small, ordinary graces. She also manages, by showing the influence of Lily's life across three generations of women, to show the big picture that is not always evident when you are chasing down a toilet-resistant six year old, or worrying about a mentally disabled adult who is late arriving and never remembers to bring her cell phone on the bus with her.

I am very glad I got the chance to read these books; beyond my identification with the circumstances and themes of the trilogy, I found them to be a well-written, deeply Catholic take on some of the issues and difficulties of our modern times. The books deal with situations from adoption to single motherhood to abortion to troubled marriages; not with a view to pat answers, but with an eye for realistic detail and grace in the little things.

I think a non-Christian could read them and get a better understanding of the value of every life, and I think Catholics with some doubts about the tricky issues could get much good out of them.   I would also recommend them to anyone looking for thoughtful, interesting Catholic fiction, and particularly for parents dealing with special needs.   I think older teenagers and college students would enjoy these books, as well. 

You can find out more, including information on author Sherry Boas and on how to get the books here

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