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Advancing Together

Managing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I deepen my faith and develop immensely, together with those around me.

Support—Sherman Hom in Hamilton, N.J., March 2022. Photo by Satyam Patel.

by Sherman Hom 
Hamilton, N.J.

The SGI declared 2020 the Year of Advancement and Capable People, a fitting name for a year that would test my limits as a human being. I was serving my fifth year as the Client Services Program Manager of New Jersey’s Public Health and Environmental Laboratory when, in March, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. I was quickly appointed to create a specimen-receiving system in support of the newly created COVID-19 testing program. As longtime Buddhists, me and my wife, Anne, embraced the opportunity to accelerate the transformation of our characters.

I put together a team of the most capable people—one of whom was a young man who had begun his practice in 2018—and prepared for the coming storm. We were just seven, as we didn’t have time to get new hires up to speed. Knowing how much would be laid on his shoulders, I encouraged this rather shy young man, who reminded me so much of myself at his age, to respond to the pandemic with Ikeda Sensei’s lionlike spirit. In the SGI, I have experienced many times what a team of just a few fully committed people can accomplish. I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a lion’s roar, morning and evening, to stay intensely focused, unify the team and protect the people of New Jersey. 

Over the next 10 months, we purchased, organized and coordinated the distribution of hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits to all New Jersey hospitals. In addition, I oversaw the deployment and construction of three deployable COVID-19 testing labs to underserved communities. 

As our response efforts ramped up, so did I—on an emotional and energetic level. In my 40s, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. The onset of a hypomanic episode is difficult to describe, but to Anne, the signs are unmistakable. Anticipating the demands I would begin to make of myself, she drew the line in advance. 

“You’ll sleep at home,” she insisted, “not at the lab. And eat some real food while you’re here—not that junk you keep stashed in the breakroom.” 

But such instruction, even from Anne, began to chafe. Early on, each of the 50 states entered into competition as independent buyers for pandemic supplies, from medical gowns to nose swabs. Not only did I need to distribute supplies, I had to purchase them, too, in a tight market. Competing aggressively each day, for days on end, my life condition fell into anger. I did my best to honor Anne’s wishes, but on many nights, I slept no more than a few hours before waking up, thinking of the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who would benefit or suffer according to how successfully I bartered on their behalf. It reached the point where anything that took me away from work—even food, even sleep, even chanting—felt burdensome. I began to tune out anything that wasn’t work-related, including Anne. 

Sherman and his wife, Anne, in Hawaii, April 2021.

And then, in January 2021, I received a massive, long-awaited shipment of 8 million test kits for distribution. That’s when I snapped and when Anne put her foot down. 

She confronted me, compassionately and courageously, telling me I was focused on work to the detriment of my health, our relationship and my faith. She asked that I take time off.  

In mid-February, I did, leaving everything in the hands of my field manager—the young man who had developed tremendously both in work and in faith. I got back on my medication, slept, ate normally and returned to a consistent rhythm of chanting. 

I followed the four-part guidelines of SGI-USA’s HOPE campaign, launched in response to the pandemic and outlined on a lovely postcard that Anne had set on our altar, which I had not noticed until then: Hope-filled daimoku; Open Sensei’s guidance and Nichiren’s writings; Plant seeds of Buddhahood; and Encourage others. I got back in touch with many of my guests who I had not been in contact with since the pandemic’s outbreak, one of whom avidly jumped back into her practice, becoming a HOPE Champion; she is now eagerly awaiting to receive Gohonzon. I planted seeds of Buddhism wherever I went and was reminded of the joy of practicing Buddhism, the joy of living in general. I was able to recoup and return in March to oversee the distribution of 1.5 million kits by May. At the end of all this, the lab director grasped my hand, saying, “Sherman, you should know, you saved the state of New Jersey.”

What he didn’t know is what saved me: practicing this Buddhism with the SGI and centering on my mentor’s guidance. Looking up from those grueling months, I see clearly that everyone who went through it with me—the young man who was my field manager, the young woman who is now a HOPE Champion, and of course, my wife, Anne—has developed tremendously as human beings, taking their faith to new heights. I can say without hesitation that 2020 was indeed the year of Advancement and Capable People. In this Year of Youth and Dynamic Progress, I am resolved to advance even more, fostering young successors and creating ever greater value at home, at work and in society. 

Q: What advice would you give the youth?

Sherman Hom: Stick with the fundamentals and be consistent. Consistency is the key. Over time, you will experience the most joyful benefit of faith—the deepening of your character, together with others.  

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