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October 2, 2010, was the happiest day of my life—I never dreamt that I would ever experience such joy. It was my youngest son Shoji’s wedding day. At the wedding reception, Shoji read out a letter he had written for me and my husband:
“When I was young, I always felt inferior to others because of my parents. Every year during parent-teacher day, I was far from happy to see my parents at school. In fact, I felt embarrassed.”
I could well understand Shoji’s embarrassment as both my husband and I are physically disabled. Forty-five years ago, I was diagnosed as having Limb-girdle Muscular Dystrophy, a hereditary muscle disease that weakens the muscles of both the upper arms and legs until there is no strength left in the muscle. There is no cure for this disease. Due to Osteosarcoma (primary bone cancer), my husband had his right leg amputated and needs to use crutches to get around.
Shoji’s letter continued:
“Every day, I had to help out with household chores at home. While my friends were free to play after school, I had to go home straight from school to prepare dinner for the family.”
related article The Spirit to Serve Others by Brandon Nicholson Brandon Nicholson describes how Buddhism helped him to overcome health challenges in his childhood, enabling him to pursue higher education and develop the spirit to work for the happiness of others and contribute to social justice. I recall that by the time Shoji was born, the muscles in my limbs had weakened to the extent that I could not carry my own baby. I had to rely on my husband to bottle-feed Shoji. Eventually, my limbs deteriorated to the point that I could no longer do any housework and had to depend on my children to do all the chores.
Shoji continued to read his letter:
“There were even times when I wished I had not been born into this family. But it was my wife’s words that changed my outlook completely. One day, she said to me, ‘I’m really impressed by your father and mother. They are so wonderful! To compensate for their physical disabilities, they have raised you with even greater love—more love than any other parents can give. I can feel it with my heart.’ My heart ached as I listened to these words. I realized how foolish I had been. I finally saw what I had been blinded to all these years. As I looked back on my childhood, I realized that I grew up not lacking anything. I had all the things other kids had. My parents bought me a brand new school bag, a bicycle, electronic games and even took me to the amusement park. Yes, indeed, their love was so ‘huge’ that I had failed to see it.”
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and my Buddhist practice was the basis for everything I did, including raising my children.
As Shoji read his letter, I recalled how I felt toward my own parents. By the time I turned 20, I could no longer walk on my own. I hated my mother for passing this hereditary disease on to me and even thought of suicide, asking myself, “Is there any meaning in continuing to live?” I had almost given up on life when I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism.
Gradually, I changed. It was the warmth of my fellow Soka Gakkai members and, more than anything else, the encouragement of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance that changed my mindset and outlook on life totally. It transformed my life. It could be best summed up in the phrase “Buddhism is win or lose and so is life.” Everything I did was an all-out earnest struggle—either I win or I lose. This included my marriage, the delivery of my two children, attending a discussion meeting, going shopping, in fact, everything. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and my Buddhist practice was the basis for everything I did, including raising my children.
related article Summoning up the Determination to Win by Lyla Cansfield Lyla Camsfield's experience with cancer enabled her to test the power of her practice of Nichiren Buddhism and to develop the courage to pursue the career of her dreams. Today, I am the chairperson of the Ishikawa branch of the Japan Muscular Dystrophy Association, I also counsel staff for the Kanazawa City Committee for the Disabled and I am a lecturer at a training school for people in the care-taker profession.
Thanks to my experience of working as an assistant nurse before my marriage and, at the same time, being a person with physical limitations myself, I am able to understand the feelings of both parties involved—that of the care giver and that of the person being cared for. I have finally found my mission in life, one that only I can fulfill. This is the meaning in my continuing to live.
Shoji concluded his touching letter to us with the following words:
“No words can describe my gratitude to my parents. I’m glad I was born into this world. Thank you mother, for bringing me into this wonderful world! Thank you father, for always being there for mother . . . Mother, you are the sun in my life!”
I could not stop crying. Tears of joy simply would not stop flowing and I knew, in my heart, that I had won.
[Translated from the January 2011 issue of The Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai study journal]
Make Me Sound Amazing: Lessons in Life and Leadership
by James Greening, Australia
A Fierce Determination to Live
by Jharna Narang, survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks
An Unfolding Story
by Nomsa Mdlalose, South Africa
Creating Ties of Friendship
by Liz Lorente, UK
by Nitin Upadhye, India
Embracing the Cycle of Life
by Gwen Harris, USA
Meeting My Life Purpose
by Fernanda Baumhardt, Brazil