Experience

My Great Battle

How Marcus Christian-Hendrickson summoned hope and courage in the most extreme conditions.

New life—Marcus Christian-Hendrickson shares his experience at the Florida Nature and Culture Center about finding meaning in life after his brush with death, June 26. Photo: Curt Lembach.


by Marcus Christian-Hendrickson
ST. CROIX, VIRGIN ISLANDS

My mother, a pioneer SGI Buddhist, started practicing before I was born. I remember sleeping under her chair while she chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in the morning. But like a lot of children, I rebelled and struggled to find my own way. I went to college in Georgia, and then came back home to St. Croix, where I started working as a bank teller. I was happy to be home but felt unfulfilled. So I determined to challenge myself by applying SGI Buddhist values in my daily life. I wanted to bring out my potential and confidence, and live the life I wanted.

It was at this time, about five years ago, that I started learning gongyo and finally began chanting with my mom. As my attitude changed, my life started to improve. I got my dream job, as the manager at a basalt rock quarry. As I learned more, I was able to contribute to the growth of the business and get it to a financially stable place. That accomplishment was a source of deep satisfaction and joy for me. My new career also gave me the flexibility to spend time coaching kids in flag football and other sports, something which I truly love. My life was advancing, and I continued chanting abundantly and consistently each day.

Marcus' mom, Cora Christian, cheers him on from the audience. Photo: Curt Leimbach
Marcus’ mom, Cora Christian, cheers him on from the audience. Photo: Noriko Kakusho.

But my life took a dramatic turn on Dec. 13, 2015, my 31st birthday. I had attended an SGI gathering and had just dropped off a guest. Driving home, I turned the corner and heard a loud “Boom!”

What was that and why is my chest on fire? Am I shot? I asked myself. I was aware of more gunfire in rapid succession, and I felt more pain. The next thing I remember is waking up in the intensive care unit of a Miami hospital. My mom was at my bedside.

“Marcus,” she said, “you have been shot.” She explained how a bullet had gone into my head. I was also hit several times in my chest and leg, and another bullet had shattered against my spine. When I had lost control of the car, I hit an electric pole. My brain was affected and some bleeding had shut down the right side of my body. The fact that I could move at all was miraculous.

I had no idea who had shot me or why. But that didn’t matter at that moment. “I do not want revenge on the people who shot me,” I told my mom. Instead, I sincerely chanted for them and determined to focus on my own recovery.

The first few days were terrible. I had tubes coming out of every opening. I could not move my head due to the neck brace. I could not breathe on my own. I was so fortunate to have friends who fed me, took care of me, gave me extra sheets to keep me warm and even bathed me when I did not have the strength.

My mom strongly encouraged me to continue chanting every day. During my hospital stay, she was attending SGI activities in the evenings with the determination for my full recovery. My cousin, who lives in Miami, received the Gohonzon during that time. I knew it was an opportunity to help him awaken to his own Buddhahood and mission for world peace.

We must transform this culture of violence into a culture of peace.

I spent only eight days in the hospital and was healthy enough to go back to St. Croix 16 days after my attack. I am so appreciative for my mother who was there every step of the way, chanting with me, encouraging me and joking with me to keep my spirits high. On returning home, I learned that my car had over 40 bullet holes in it, and that I had been shot in a case of mistaken identity.

When I first started seriously practicing SGI Buddhism, I was looking for inner peace. Then I began sharing this practice with others. And just like Nichiren Daishonin’s letter published in Living Buddhism the month of my attack, my “Great Battle” was to summon hope and courage even in the most extreme conditions. I learned to challenge my struggles with a perspective centered on kosen-rufu; in other words, not feeling like a victim, but instead using my life to encourage others. I think as a direct result, I am fully recovered and back to work. I have some pain here and there, but nothing to complain about.

SGI President Ikeda writes: “The struggle for kosen-rufu is eternal. Never retreating, let us continue with even greater energy to protect and triumphantly expand our movement of hope, joy and victory. Let us win in our battle to respond to and overcome challenges, creating historic achievements and together adorning our lives with boundless good fortune” (December 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 38).

Believe me, I never thought, Let me be repeatedly shot so I can share this experience with others. But that’s what has happened. Because of my close call with death, I have even more appreciation for my life. Looking back, I always had a sense of not being attractive enough, or not wanted, but after the outpouring of care I received during my recovery, I will never feel that way again. Not only do I have a renewed sense of love and loyalty for my friends and family, but also for myself.

I have emerged from this even more determined that we must transform this culture of violence into a culture of peace. Through my own human revolution and sharing Buddhism with others, I will create boundless fortune in my community so that we can have victory over violence and peace throughout the four corners of our land.

 

(p. 5)