LESSON 1: “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” – Cammie McGovern
When Cammie McGovern’s son, Ethan, was diagnosed with autism her reaction, like most people, was denial. It was a message that every mother dreads to hear. She went through a battery of excuses of why the doctors and professionals might be wrong, and found herself becoming more and more isolated. Withdrawn and turned inward, she was adrift without a support system. Without a community.
But then in one magical moment, Ethan discovered the drums. It opened up a new world for both Cammie and Ethan. Slowly, Cammie and Ethan were pulled into an unexpected community of people who were families just like them. At first, it was difficult for Cammie to enter this new community: she didn’t really know them, and could she trust these people who had come to terms with their unique situations? But she bravely stepped through the door they had opened, and discovered she was no longer lonely or alone, and found the support that made her feel more connected and grounded. She had found her community. She became more and more involved with her son’s life. More importantly, Cammie learned a lesson that she shared with Bay Path students (and a good life lesson for all): “A family doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to be united.”
LESSON 2: “No act of kindness is every wasted.” - Aesop
Cammie McGovern’s newly discovered community became the foundation for Whole Children, an organization dedicated to providing learning opportunities to children with special needs. It also inspired her to write A Step Toward Falling. The novel is about two teenagers, Emily and Lucas, who must do 40 hours of community service at a center for young adults with disabilities.
They are not there by choice, and quickly find themselves out of their comfort zone. Their fault was one we all struggle with—they elected to be bystanders rather than provide help, in this case, to another student. Ultimately, Emily and Lucas’s biases are replaced by friendship and understanding. Through their work at the Center, Emily and Lucas learn the lessons of genuine kindness and the impact it can have on others. As Cammie advocated to Bay Path students: “You should do some form of community service every year. And don’t take the easy way out. You might be scared or the only one interested, but step up and do it. You may find it will change your perspective and your direction in life.”
LESSON 3: “Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.” – M. Scott Peck
Ultimately, A Step Toward Falling is learning how to see people for whom they really are. Just like Lucas and Emily, too often people are easily entrapped by stereotypes and prejudices. It is through conversations and shared experiences—not through cell phones and tablets—that we can begin crossing boundaries and finding similarities. As humans, we are by our nature social beings. For us to truly thrive, we have a need to be part of a community, and be open to others.
As Cammie shared with Bay Path students: “Every life is rich with stories worth sharing. They are our common legacy. We just have to listen.”
LAST LESSON: Embrace and cherish YOUR CommUNITY.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
On Self-Respect: Joan Didion’s 1961 Essay from the pages of Vogue