Hope Is a Decision
Through chanting for her mother’s recovery, Mariel Festa uncovers newfound confidence and strength.
by Mariel Festa
I decided to become a Buddhist on Sept. 7, 2014, because I was told that I could become happy, and I knew that was what I wanted and needed.
I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for my family’s happiness, specifically my mom. She had suffered deeply for many years with an alcohol addiction that I thought would never get better, but the power of this practice is incredible and does not acknowledge the word “impossible.” This past April, I was able to sponsor my mother to receive the Gohonzon, which was one of the best days of my life.
At the beginning of this summer, everything was going great, as I continued challenging myself in my Buddhist practice by chanting and studying, and taking on leadership responsibility in my local SGI organization.
My mom was chanting and really making changes in her life for the better. Then suddenly, everything changed. At work, my boss told me that I would be working less hours, instead of going full time as I had been promised. This caused a financial setback. But the greatest obstacle was when I found out my mom was in the intensive care unit fighting for her life.
She had suffered a stroke with sepsis, a deadly infection of the blood, and also with endocarditis, a dangerous heart inflammation. The prognosis was grave. Without surgery, my mother would die, but the surgery was so risky and her condition was so fragile that all we could do was wait until the hospital could find a surgeon willing to operate. In the meantime, my mom suffered two more strokes and an aneurysm, her kidneys went into complete failure, and she had a pacemaker implanted. The one person I wanted to talk to was my mom, and the only person I could not talk to was also my mom. I could only bring my problems to the Gohonzon.
All of the stability I thought I had in my life was gone, and I felt alone for the first time. I had always struggled with confidence and might have continued feeling hopeless, but I knew that this was my moment to forge true courage and confidence in myself through my practice.
That night, I took action to become more active as a member of the Byakuren (an SGI young women’s training group), and signed up for every shift at the opening of our new SGI center in Teaneck, New Jersey (see A New Beginning). I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo more fiercely than ever with the firm determination that my mother would have a full recovery so she could accomplish her unique mission for peace and realize true happiness.
The power of this practice is incredible and does not acknowledge the word “impossible.”
My brother Jake called me bright and early the next morning to tell me they had found a surgeon for Mom. This particular surgeon works at a world-renowned hospital and is one of the best in the nation. I felt protected and appreciative, but by the same token, I expected nothing less due to my strong chanting. I had never felt that confident in myself. Through this struggle, I was able to start forging a deep-seated sense of self-assurance.
SGI President Ikeda says: “When we change our inner determination, everything begins to move in a new direction. The moment we make a powerful resolve, every nerve and fiber in our being will immediately orient itself toward the fulfillment of that goal or desire. On the other hand, if we think, ‘This is never going to work out,’ then every cell in our body will be deflated and give up the fight. Hope, in this sense, is a decision” (Oct. 16, 2015, World Tribune, p. 6).
My chapter held three chanting sessions for my mother prior to her surgery. Everyone came together, and it was so beautiful to see my SGI-USA family unite during this time of suffering. Our discussion meetings became even more dynamic through our unity; we’ve had someone receive the Gohonzon at each meeting, and we are now a Champion District! By challenging this obstacle together, our district and chapter came together as one, and the support of each person truly built the foundation of my mom’s recovery.
The surgery, which was so risky, went perfectly. But the doctors told me to brace myself, because we would not know my mom’s mental status until after the surgery. I had no choice but to chant for total victory. I went all-out in my efforts to introduce others to this practice, based on the conviction that illuminating another person’s path would brighten my own.
My brother Steven and I were spending more time together, and he shared some of his struggles with me. I had told him about the practice before, but in my heart I knew that I had to encourage him to chant again. I mustered up my newfound courage and invited him to a meeting. Amazingly, my brother became the first person to receive the Gohonzon in our new center!
On Aug. 5, my mom opened her eyes, looked at me and smiled for the first time since her surgery. I said, “Hi, Mommy, do you know it’s me?” She nodded, and I started to cry.
My mom is now breathing on her own, her kidney function has returned to normal, and she is even able to sit up and hold a conversation! Because of her tracheostomy, the sounds don’t come out, but she mouths the words she means. I brought her prayer beads to the hospital, and we have been chanting together. Every day, she makes incredible progress that stuns the hospital staff. We even laugh and share jokes together. I can’t put into words the profound joy I feel in my heart.
Throughout this whole process, I feel as though I have changed so much. I have been able to forge confidence in myself and conviction in my determinations and prayers. I’m chanting for a new job with better financial benefits and a schedule that allows me to spend time with my mother. I don’t worry about whether every little situation will work out, because I know it will. I know my mom will be wonderful, too, along with my brother and my entire family. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has the power to make the impossible, possible.