Experience

Now Only Determination Remains

Transforming a life of violence and misery into one of justice and peace.

WIlliam Edenfield SGI-USA Atlanta Buddhist Center, Atlanta, GA March 20. Photo: Shirley Tittermary


by Will Edenfield
ATLANTA

Everything changed for me as a teenager after my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was a great dad who raised me on his own after my parents divorced when I was just a toddler. Because my mother and I had been estranged, I was sent to a group home for boys. I was 15 years old. I couldn’t grieve for my father for a very long time because I was so mad that he left me.

Desperate to leave the group home, I enlisted in the U.S. Army right after high school and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 as part of the infantry division.

While there, I became best friends with a guy in my platoon, and we would always motivate each other. As we were performing a routine operation one day, he was shot and killed right beside me. I was horrified.

Tragedy struck again a few weeks later when a battle buddy and I drove over an improvised explosive device. Fortunately we both survived but not without severe injuries. After seven months in Afghanistan, I received a medical discharge and returned to the U.S.

Even though I was back home, the scenes of warfare never left my mind. I used drugs to cope with my severe depression, suicidal thoughts and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hoping to regain some semblance of a normal life, I soon found a job as a nurse tech at night while going to nursing school in the day. I also met someone, and we started a family together. Our relationship, however, dissolved quickly, and we were constantly arguing. After four years of marriage and three children, we divorced in 2015. I fell into an even deeper depression and many nights, I would cry on the edge of my bed holding an unloaded revolver to my head. I’d pull back the hammer, close my eyes, take a deep breath and squeeze the trigger. I would yell and curse at myself for not being able to do it with a bullet in the chamber. I felt I had failed myself and my children, and I was convinced that the purpose of my life was to suffer.

In an effort to change my surroundings and start anew, I found another job working in the intensive care unit at a
hospital. It was there that I met an amazing co-worker and friend. We had many conversations about life and, eventually, I opened up to her about my challenges, since she was the most compassionate and nonjudgmental person I had ever met. She shared with me that she chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to overcome her own sufferings, and since I was experiencing some health problems at the time, I went to my first SGI meeting in January 2017. I received the Gohonzon that March 9.

A few days in, I learned that a mass on my spine was cancerous. I began chemo and radiation immediately, but the treatments left me physically weak. I was devastated, but my loving men’s and women’s leaders would reach out to encourage me. I was deeply moved that people I barely knew cared so much about my happiness. They inspired me to chant seriously in front of the Gohonzon, and after much guidance and some crying sessions, I made a firm determination to win.

In one sense I was suffering more than ever, but this time, I had hope and for the most part, I was happy! Chanting, studying
SGI President Ikeda’s guidance and engaging with members brought out an upbeat attitude. I was replacing the selfpity
that had consumed so much of my life with determination. Where I was once suicidal, I was now
declaring that I was going to live and beat this cancer! This internal shift also helped me develop a capacity to care for others on a deeper level. This practice was helping me find the courage to fight on, so I felt it would be unjust to not share it with others who were also suffering. I determined to introduce Buddhism to at least one person every day and bring a guest to each meeting that I attended. Day by day, I was gaining both inner and physical strength, and by September,
the tumor had shrunk enough to be safely removed. My surgery was a success!

I now realize that each of the unique experiences I had were tools that I could utilize to help others experience profound joy! And I have already helped three friends begin their Buddhist practice.

In January, I was appointed the young men’s leader for Northwest Georgia Chapter, which covers Georgia and Tennessee. I vow that our chapter will unleash 101 lions for the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival! I encourage everybody I meet about the 50K movement and even if they are not interested in Buddhism, I ask them to stand with me as a friend, because ultimately this is about fighting for everyone’s right to happiness.

Striving to become the best father that I can be, I also want to ensure a bright future for my children, Isaiah, 6; Reagan, 4; and Tatum, 3.

In Buddhism I found the courage and wisdom to do what’s right, and now it’s time to create that justice for everyone in society. Let’s accomplish this together with Sensei! Instead of the misery I once felt, now only determination remains.

(p. 5)