Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
About 12 years ago, when Claire Wroblewski moved to the small community of Doe Run, Missouri, USA, she was a mother with three children, with a shaky marriage and financial woes.
Out of desperation, she took the first job she could find—housekeeping at a nursing home, working the graveyard shift so that she could take care of Louise (then 15), Matt (then 5) and Sam (then 2).
The highlight of each day was reciting her Buddhist prayers, which she thought of as a “song of life.”
“I felt that I was communicating with all of life, right down to every blade of grass I could see outside my window,” she says. “I didn’t feel scared, lonely or desperate anymore. My prayers totally refreshed me.”
Reading SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s encouragement deepened her sense of appreciation. “I was grateful to be working, and if my job was to clean toilets in the middle of the night, well, then, they would be the shiniest in town,” she said.
She learned that everyone, no matter what his or her age, needs to be needed.
Others noticed her optimism. In 1995, when the nursing home activity director left, to Claire’s surprise, he recommended that she replace him. Claire’s employer paid for her education to become certified, and Claire jumped from housekeeper to department head.
She chanted to contribute to the quality of life and happiness of the seniors for whom she was now responsible. “President Ikeda tells us that it’s not the quantity but rather the quality of life that matters,” Claire says. She kept asking herself, “What is the best way to make them happy?”
She decided to seek answers from the happiest group of seniors she knew—SGI-USA pioneer members—and so she attended the Golden Stage Conference at the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center. There, she learned that everyone, no matter what his or her age, needs to be needed.
related article Food for the Hungry by Huntley Nicholas Huntley Nicholas talks about the shock of witnessing famine in Ethiopia soon after he began practicing Buddhism and his journey to promote food security in Japan. He is currently a founding trustee of Second Harvest Asia, a program promoting food banking in East Asia. Claire returned to work resolved to create many opportunities for seniors to interact within their community. She developed programs, including a senior citizens’ fishing derby, an intergenerational reading club, Caring Crafts (seniors making gifts for the underprivileged) and Ninety Is Nifty (bringing seniors to cheer local youth at sports competitions).
Claire recognized that to have happy senior citizens, the nursing home staff also had to be happy. She was inspired by Mr. Ikeda’s tribute to and insights on the life of Florence Nightingale. She created the Florence Nightingale Award for outstanding nurses within her facility and also created an exhibit about Nightingale. Soon after, she established, out of her own pocket, a four-year Ikeda/Nightingale nursing scholarship at Mineral Area College to help cover the cost of books and supplies.
“President Ikeda gives us so many different ways to reach out and encourage those around us,” Claire says. “We just have to take action.”
Claire also initiated in her county the first Alzheimer’s Memory Walk to raise money for research. The local Alzheimer’s Association chapter tried to dissuade her from putting on the event because the projected funds raised would most likely not exceed $2,000—hardly worth the effort. “I said to myself, ‘You keep talkin’; I’m going to be walkin’,’” Claire says.
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. Despite her decision to move forward, she felt daunted. She chanted, and on her way to work every day listened to audiotapes of The New Human Revolution, Mr. Ikeda’s novelized history of the SGI. She stayed focused on her goal. “Listening to President Ikeda’s words made me feel centered,” she says. “President Ikeda is so confident and warm. I felt he was right there with me, and I could face anything.”
On the day of the Memory Walk, Claire expected 100 participants. Instead, more than 500 showed up, and they raised $25,000. The next day, the front page of the local paper reported the success with a big headline: “It’s a Miracle!”
“Cutting through my own fears and doubts as I prayed was the key,” Claire says. “Everything else followed.” The state of Missouri honored her several times, including presenting an award for contributing to “Quality of Life.” She was also nominated Working Woman of the Year for 2003 by the county newspaper.
The Memory Walk is now a proud annual tradition in her community. After speaking with a senior SGI member, Claire deepened her determination to create bridges of friendship between her community and the SGI, with appreciation for what she learned from Mr. Ikeda.
Life just gets better and better.
Based on the many friendships she had already established, Claire visited her community leaders, explaining the spirit of Mr. and Mrs. Ikeda and the SGI. “I may be the one who introduces my community leaders to President Ikeda,” she says, “but when they read his words, they are deeply affected and establish their own bond with him.”
As a result, 12 honorary citizenships were presented to Mr. and Mrs. Ikeda, as well as an honorary professorship from Mineral Area College and other awards from community and state leaders. Claire, along with the great support of SGI-USA members and the Missouri Department of Transportation, helped to establish and now maintain the roadside Ikeda Tip Top Park in Ironton, Missouri, USA. “Today, there is so much fortune in my family. We now own a lovely home and are delighted to open our doors to SGI-USA meetings,” Claire says.
“I am now teaching at Mineral Area College; my husband enjoys his own thriving business, and my children are growing into wonderful adults.
“My accomplishments are a direct reflection of the encouragement I receive in the SGI publications,” she adds. In particular, she is always inspired by Mr. Ikeda’s writings.
To spend just a few moments with Claire is to feel the infectious, almost electric sense of appreciation that defines her life. She recently celebrated her 15th anniversary with husband Bruce and says that “life just gets better and better.”
[Adapted from an article by World Tribune correspondent Lisa Kirk published in the November 30, 2007, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of the World Tribune]
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