Experience

Cherishing Each Child as a Buddha

Fighting alongside my daughter teaches me what it means to never give up.

George Campbell (left) with his daughter, Jamesha Maddox, in front of the restaurant where she works, Louisville, Ky., July 2021. Photo by Desmond Thomkins


by George Campbell
Louisville, KY.

If you can overcome hardships and trials without being discouraged by temporary ups and downs, both you and your children can nurture an indestructible strength of heart. The foundation for this is prayer. Parents pray for their children and the children respond to that prayer, and in this way parents and children grow together. (Ikeda Sensei, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, p. 29)

When I first saw my daughter, Jamesha, she was in the passenger seat of a Dodge Caravan full of foster children, talking to herself. The shuttle driver shared with me her suspicion, popular with the caretakers, that Jamesha was possessed. I took a closer look. She was talking up a storm over there, but the word possessed didn’t come to mind. That word struck a painful chord, as family members labeled me similarly when I started my Buddhist practice 45 years ago.

Like Jamesha, I grew up in foster care. One thing my Buddhist practice has taught me is gratitude, and I developed profound appreciation for all those who cared for me along the way. I resolved to one day repay my debt of gratitude by caring for youth in similar circumstances.

After retirement, I embarked on a new chapter of my life as a foster parent. When Jamesha saw me for the first time she said, as if it were a plain fact, “You must be my dad.” When the opportunity arose to adopt Jamesha, I took it. She is autistic with special needs, and while she may be different from most people, she’s her own person with a great mission.

Twelve years have passed since our first encounter. Now at 22, Jamesha has become a young woman with a sense of purpose. So, when the COVID- 19 pandemic hit, I was unsure how she would respond to lockdown conditions. She lost her job at a diner, and I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to open new paths for her to develop.

Jamesha is an honorary future division member, and fortunately, our local future division quickly transitioned to online meetings. The leaders challenged the young members to chant 15 minutes each day. Jamesha took to these meetings like a duck to water, logging on ahead of everyone each time. She also dove into the chanting challenge. Some days she would keep on going, chanting 30, even 45 minutes. Her attitude in front of the Gohonzon fired me up to chant more and deepened my resolve for her to fulfill her mission.

During the pandemic, I’ve been taking care of the Louisville Buddhist Center to ensure the facilities are in good shape. Jamesha began coming with me, and while I did the building check, she ran the water and flushed the toilets to keep the pipes healthy.

One day, a contractor who works with me to maintain the center told me about a local diner that hires youth with special needs. Jamesha and I immediately followed up, and she landed the job! We both felt that this was a clear benefit of all of her chanting and efforts to support our SGI-USA center.

Normally, a support person accompanies Jamesha to work. But this time their schedules conflicted. While he went out of his way to support her the first two days, she was on her own after that. I couldn’t help but worry if she was doing all right. As ever, I prayed to the Gohonzon for her protection.

Two weeks in, I picked up Jamesha from work, and she was waiting with another girl. “Dad, look who I’m working with.” I didn’t realize who it was until the girl pulled down her mask and said, “Hello, Granddaddy.” It was my granddaughter, Makai. I hadn’t been on speaking terms with Makai’s father, my son, for six years and hadn’t seen her in that time. She told me: “Granddaddy, don’t worry about Jamesha. I will take good care of her.” She’d just been hired at the same diner. Suffice to say, she and Jamesha had made a connection.

Now, thanks to Jamesha’s and Makai’s connection, my son and I have spoken more these past months than in the past six years combined, answering my deep, long-standing prayer to end our estrangement. A few weeks ago, his 4-year-old son had a T-ball game right across the street from our house, and we were invited to join. It’s strange and moving to be called Granddaddy.

While others cast aspersions, I have never once given up on Jamesha. I chant to stay strong for her. When I’m strong, she’s strong. When she’s strong, I feel like I’m accomplishing my mission. She demonstrates time and again her unique potential, and through her, I have deepened my understanding of what it means to never give up on myself or others.