A Philosophy of Limitless Transformation
Albert and Gabriella Grange stand undefeated by adversity, and take courageous action toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival
Living Buddhism: Albert and Gabriella, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Albert, how were you introduced to the practice?
Albert Grange: I first heard about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo from my cousin when I was 18 years old, and in 1986, I was introduced again by my girlfriend, Veronika, who is now my wonderful wife. I was never a spiritual person, but the practice made sense to me, so I received the Gohonzon and gave it a try. Within a month, I became a district men’s leader, and I started to see the practice working in my life. I had a lot of self-doubt and lacked hope, but by the end of my first year of practice, I got a significant promotion at work and married the love of my life. Practicing this Buddhism enabled me to feel passion for life.
In your three decades of practice, what has been the most difficult challenge you faced?
Albert Grange: My wife and I raised our two children, Meredyth and Gabriella, in the SGI, which gave them a spiritual basis for respecting their own lives and others. Because of that, one of my greatest recent challenges has been watching my own daughter Gabriella go through depression. I’d like for Gabriella to share what happened in her own words.
Gabriella, thank you for joining us. Can you share a little bit about your experience?
Gabriella Grange: Yes, throughout my childhood, I was bullied and put myself down as a result. In my senior year of high school, I got accepted into a college on the East Coast. I was so excited for college because I saw it as a chance to regain my self-confidence. When I got there, I took on a heavy course load, joined the campus orchestra and connected with SGI members. I also got a job at a local daycare. But within the first few weeks of college, I found myself frequently tired because I didn’t make time to care for my mental health. Nevertheless, I chanted and stayed as active as I could in the SGI and pushed through the school year. In 2014, after I got back from the Student Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida, I found out that the actor Robin Williams had committed suicide. Little did I know that his suicide would force me to confront my own battle with mental health. Even though I was still active in my studies, orchestra and the SGI, I was bare-knuckling it through my day. I quit my job because I was tired of calling in sick and even discontinued supporting the SGI campus club. I also started isolating myself from people and making excuses to not hang out with my friends. Even when I chanted, I felt completely numb about life.
Out of a desire to feel something, I started cutting myself. Initially it felt good, but I realized that I needed another solution before I harmed myself to the point of no return, so I decided to seek out therapy. When I told my therapist about my issues, she laughed at me and told me to simply stop cutting. I couldn’t believe her reaction. I became even more anti-social and lost the will to live.
Thank you for sharing this difficult episode with us. Albert, how did you respond?
Albert: When my wife and I first heard about Gabriella’s depression, we were very sad. We kept thinking: How did this happen? How did we not see this coming? We assumed that Gabriella was OK, because she was smart and always followed the rules. We began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with an intensity like never before. We wanted to be there for her when she was ready to open up.
Gabriella, what happened next?
Gabriella: After graduating from college, I moved back in with my parents, because I had student loans and no concrete post-graduation plans. For six months, I was unemployed and depressed. My parents encouraged me to make causes for my life, so I took on responsibility as an SGI district young women’s leader and joined Byakuren, a behind-the-scenes training group for young women. But as I tried to rebuild my life, my depression made it hard for me to feel any joy.
That summer, I started cutting myself again. Unbeknownst to my family and friends, I attended SGI activities and Byakuren shifts with bandaged scars on my arm. I felt nothing but anger with myself and my environment.
This must have been such a difficult time for you. How did you cope?
Gabriella: It was challenging at first. That summer I was also preparing for an orchestra audition. Because I stayed up the night before the audition cutting myself and over-practicing, all I could do was lay in bed on the day of the audition and think about killing myself. The day of my audition, I was so exhausted from self-harming and over-practicing the night before that all I could do was lie in bed and contemplate suicide. Nevertheless, I took my suffering to the Gohonzon and chanted with tears streaming down my face. When I finally stepped into the audition room, I shed my fears and played from my heart. The judges told me how much they enjoyed my performance, and I came home feeling victorious. The next day, I learned that I had made it into the orchestra as a substitute. Even though my family rejoiced for me, I struggled to feel good about myself and attempted suicide that evening.
My sister bandaged me up, and my father, sister and I sat down and talked openly. I told them numbly that I deserved to die. My father broke down crying and pleaded with me not to not take my life. Through this dialogue, I determined to win over my self-doubt.
Albert: I never thought I had to worry about my daughter. She was smart and always got good grades, and she even had a scholarship to college. I assumed that she was OK, but this was a wakeup call that I needed to win with faith.
Previously, I had been a district men’s leader for 20 years, and I had gotten into “maintenance mode” in my practice. In 2016, SGI President Ikeda asked all of us: “Please promise with me to work hard over the next two years with our fellow members around the world to expand our network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and forge ahead with energy, wisdom and good cheer to make the triumph of mentor and disciple resound into the eternal future of the Latter Day of the Law” (Oct. 7, 2016, World Tribune, p. 3). When I read that, I felt like he was challenging me personally to stand up in faith, and his words gave me courage to take action and transform my own suffering.
What became the turning point?
Gabriella: I continued to take part in Byakuren activities and seek encouragement from seniors in faith. My parents were also chanting abundantly for my happiness.
At a young women’s meeting, we read a letter from Nichiren Daishonin, where he states: “If you are unwilling to make efforts to heal yourself, it will be very difficult to cure your illness. One day of life is more valuable than all the treasures of the major world system, so first you must muster sincere faith” (“On Prolonging One’s Life Span,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 955). I realized that unless I got the proper medical treatment for my depression, I could not genuinely encourage or support others. I chanted to find a great therapist and receive proper treatment. As I began treatment and exerted myself in my practice, I reconnected with my true self and felt free again. I even stopped cutting once and for all! I also got a job at Starbucks, which allowed me to put into practice the customer service skills I acquired from my training in Byakuren.
What an amazing breakthrough! What did you learn in the process?
Gabriella: Part of my suffering came from being ashamed of my depression. I felt I was supposed to be happy, and I was too embarrassed to open up to anyone. When I finally did share my struggles with my family and friends in faith, I removed a heavy load from my shoulders and started the process of transforming my suffering into a source of great value to encourage others.
Toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I have been using my experiences to encourage other people and repay my debt of gratitude to the many members who have supported me. Also because of this campaign, I have reignited my dream of becoming a world-class cellist. I am determined to report a great victory to my mentor, President Ikeda.
Most importantly, I feel so much more confident now. Instead of crying tears of pain or feeling numb, I cry tears of joy and appreciation for being alive.
Albert: Now, we try to do morning gongyo together, and Gabriella chants an hour to bring her Buddha nature to her new job. We are also co-leaders for Northstar 75 chapter, where I serve as the men’s leader and Gabriella is the young women’s vice leader. It has been the greatest joy to see how hard Gabriella is fighting toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival and how much joy she is experiencing in the process! The youth, women’s and men’s divisions in our chapter have united to achieve our goal of bringing 250 young people to the festival in Dallas. Gabriella and I are using this campaign as the means to transform our family karma.
What is your goal toward the Lions of Justice Festival?
Gabriella: I have decided to pursue my dream of music. I want to break the mold of elitism that still exists in the world of classical music and make its beauty accessible to all people. I am also determined to chant more, study Buddhism and work together with the Byakuren across Texas-Oklahoma Zone to ensure that everyone who attends the festival enjoys it to the fullest, getting to and from venue safe and sound. I have been studying The New Human Revolution in order to embody President Ikeda’s care for the members.
Albert: My personal goal toward the festival is to deepen our family harmony and to pay off our debt.Gabriella has already paid off her student loans and is now debt-free. I am determined to pay off all of my remaining debt by November 18. Through fighting in this 50K campaign, I feel so much joy!
What does the Lions of Justice movement mean to you personally?
Albert: It has been amazing to see the youth in the chapter stand up and take action together. Many members are receiving benefits through their courageous efforts to encourage youth. They are overcoming relationship issues and job struggles, and have hope that they can change their lives.
When I meet with young men, I tell them about how the festival is promoting respect for human life. I chant for them to understand that this festival is for their sake. I know that if they go, they will feel something in their lives. I tell them: “This is historic; you need to be there. It will change your life.”
Gabriella: I believe that Lions of Justice is about art and culture, and expressing the beauty of life! I want everyone to be there! I want to give people hope and introduce them to the philosophy of limitless transformation through my own example.