Experience

“I Will March Forward” Toward My Dream

LAURA HAMM


How I overcame debilitating health challenges and opened my career
path through awakening to my bodhisattva vow.

by JeanneMarie Mandley
CHICAGO

One night in January 2017, I woke up screaming because I couldn’t feel my legs. I found out I had mononucleosis, and the virus had attacked the nerves in my spinal cord. After being paralyzed for over a month, I moved into a nursing home.

When my 22nd birthday was on the horizon, I was learning how to walk again but felt my life had reached an all-time low. Growing up, I had several mental and physical health difficulties, which led to years of alienation from my peers and teachers. At one point, I thought maybe I was destined to suffer.

That summer, assisted by my walking cane, I reluctantly went to the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center. There, my young women’s leader reminded me that everything I need to be happy is already inside of me, and that Buddhism teaches that the people who suffer the most will become the happiest. Shrouded in my own disbelief, I rolled my eyes. When I returned home, I continued to practice inconsistently.

A few months later, things changed. After I had miserably failed my semester exams, I called my mom crying, telling her I was going to drop out of school again. Two years earlier, I had left my university in Wisconsin and moved home to attend a local community college because of my weak emotional and mental state. When my mom encouraged me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I listened and for the first time, I chanted with an attitude to change my situation.

I started challenging myself to chant every morning and evening, and attend SGI activities. I exerted myself toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival held in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2018. Not only was I able to fully walk again, but I also participated in the the Ikeda Youth Ensemble dance group, and invited 12 friends to attend the festival.

As I made efforts for kosen-rufu, I felt more determined and worked harder in every aspect of my life. My school performance improved, and I received an A+ in the same class where I had failed the exam earlier in the semester. I received honors standings and was offered two teaching assistant positions! Things were improving, and I started to view problems as opportunities with meaning for my life.

In January of this year, my advisor handed me a pamphlet to Northwestern University, encouraging me to apply as my time at community college was coming to an end. I laughed in her face and said it was impossible. That night when I told my mom, she said that when I was 2, I used to say I would go to Northwestern so I’d never have to leave her. I realized that although it was my dream to become a medical doctor and study there, the older I got, the more I viewed the school as a palace of geniuses that I would never amount to.

That night as I chanted about it, I began to feel it was a real possibility, and I determined to apply. Soon after, I experienced a severe panic attack, which left me shaking for hours. I opened up A Youthful Diary by SGI President Ikeda and studied a passage that changed my perspective. He says:

Life is eternal, without beginning or end. Whether we suffer, weep or rejoice, regardless of our state of mind, it is the same life still. I will march forward, out of the burning house. No doubt powerful foes will arise, but I will confront them resolutely. This is the only road for me to follow. Gohonzon, watch me. (p. 28)

I prayed to the Gohonzon with a determination that I would never feel this way again. My anxiety was building because I didn’t believe in myself.
I decided I would win, no matter what, based on fighting for kosen-rufu.

I wrote about my progress to Sensei every time I went to my local SGI center, and little by little I started to believe that winning was possible. Even when I ended up back in the hospital after a terrible car accident, my instinct was to use my Buddhist practice. Every time I thought Why can’t I win? I went to the Gohonzon and chanted. The car accident was the first time I’d been so close to death that I realized I didn’t want to die.

I went to the Florida Nature and Culture Center again, in August, and this time I soaked everything up. I wrote to President Ikeda and shared my determination to report a victory by Aug. 31. Instead of being consumed with fear, I felt courage and confidence.

On the afternoon of Aug. 23, while on my way home from a baseball game, I decided to check my application status. I logged in and saw the words, “Congratulations, JeanneMarie!” I had been accepted to the medical track at Northwestern University. The Uber driver pulled over as my friends and I screamed and cried tears of joy. It was Aug. 24 in Japan, the anniversary of Sensei joining the Soka Gakkai.

I have just completed my first quarter at Northwestern. I’m also doing my best as a district young women’s leader and sharing Buddhism with the people in my environment. I now know that in order to heal sick kids, I had to grow up being a sick kid. As I work toward my dream of becoming a doctor, I want to show that, with the Gohonzon and Sensei’s encouragment, there is no limit to what we can achieve. WT