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Parting the Clouds

Taking home the Soka Gakkai spirit, my kids show me the power of prayer.

Transformation—Rich Rodriguez with this daughters (l–r) Emi and Indira in Franklin, Vermont, August 2023. Photo by John Peroramas.

by Rich Rodriguez
Saint Albans, Vt.

The pandemic could not have hit at a more difficult time. My then-wife and I were in the midst of divorce when Vermont entered a state of lockdown. Five of us lived in a three-room apartment, frustration and resentment simmering.

I told the girls often that, though their mother and I were separating, we were still and always would be a family. But as with any ideal, this one was easier said than lived. Cabin fever is probably an understated description of what we were all feeling in that apartment. 

Last November, I was at a complete loss when a senior in faith shared encouragement that Ikeda Sensei gave to a mother whose son stopped going to school: 

Your struggle with your son is nothing to worry about. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda also had many worries. Nichiren Daishonin also had many worries. We are happy because we have worries. Earthly desires are enlightenment. …

Pray earnestly and strongly. Prayer impacts the entire universe. The greatest expression of love is prayer. (Feb. 21, 2020, World Tribune, p. 5)

I remember climbing into my car and breaking down in tears. “Can I do this?” I asked a friend in faith. “Yes,” he told me. “Let’s win together!”

From that moment, my daimoku for both my wife and daughters became like fire fueling the engine of my human revolution. I chanted hours and hours for their complete happiness from the inside out. Naturally, my prayers came to extend to all the youth of Vermont Chapter. 

The members in our beautiful state are very spread out, and the nearest Buddhist center is in Boston. In March, I drove two youth guests from near the New York-Canadian border to meetings at the Boston Buddhist Center, a 13-hour roundtrip. With the prayer and efforts of the chapter and district teams, three young men joined the Soka community in May.

With a fighting spirit, I went with my daughters in July to the Elementary School Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida. Given the opportunity and space to fully express themselves, the Buddha natures of the children came naturally to the fore. I remember at the close of one experience, in particular, when my daughters took me by surprise, both of them shooting to their feet to applaud. Around the room, other children had done the same, while many of the parents, myself included, were hastily clambering out their chairs to follow suit. 

Watching them, I realized: This is the nature of my daughters. This is the nature of children. This is the unclouded nature of people. And: This is what Vermont needs. This is what the world needs.

On the eve of our departure from the FNCC, historic flash floods deluged Vermont, delaying our departure by 9 hours. Driving back from Logan Airport in Boston, we were turned around by a state trooper at Montpelier, Vermont’s state capital, and told there was no way home in sight.

A family member called and said they were bailing water from the house basement. Turning the car around, I began chanting under my breath. Rain was falling heavily, and the movement of the floodwaters was unknowable. There was no telling if there’d be another downpour, if we’d find ourselves stranded in water. However, even as fear rose inside me, I realized that the prayer and efforts I’d put into Vermont Chapter needed to go into hyperdrive to ensure every precious member and guest was reached out to, accounted for and, most important, safe!

I began calling members one after another, texting at rest stops to see who was OK, who needed support and who might be trapped. I chanted vigorously, and my daughters joined in.  

One young man reported that, with or without the flood, he could be homeless within 24 hours due to nonpayment of rent. I called him at every gas station and pitstop to remind him that I was chanting with him, that he couldn’t give up. By the end of the day, he had secured an advance on a work contract that kept him housed.

Approaching Brattleboro, my daughter Indira called out, “Everything is going to be all right!” Continuing to chant, I felt a thunderous hope within. 

Photo by Roxy Azuaje.

It was around 10 a.m. when we pulled into the McDonald’s to use the restrooms and eat. Waiting for Indira to come out of the restroom, I felt warmth fall on my face: the sun was coming up, breaking through the clouds and pouring in through the windows.

A trio of brightly dressed women filed out of the bathroom, Indira close behind. When they saw me, they exclaimed, “Is this your daughter?” Apparently, Indira, noting the women’s ages, had insisted that they use the facilities first. She’d also complimented them on their clothes. Given the circumstances, the fact that she was thinking of others moved me deeply. I don’t usually tear up, but I did then, feeling for the first time since hearing the news of the floods that everything really was going to be all right. 

On the way back, I called my ex-wife. Over the phone, we reassured each other in a way we hadn’t quite managed in months. The girls saw and felt for the first time in a long time that it was really true, what my ex-wife and I had told them: that, though we were no longer married, we remained a family. 

It was 5 p.m. when we pulled into Saint Albans at last. In a single 17-hour car ride, fueled by fighting daimoku, we were transformed.

Since coming back, the air has changed. At this past kosen-rufu gongyo meeting, someone shared an experience. There were moments, pauses after something was said, that might have passed quietly. But Indira and Emi brought back home the Soka Gakkai spirit. Emi, I recall, began clapping immediately, leading the room in waves of applause. As Indira has her way of leading, Emi has hers, not always from center stage, but confidently, with applause in a crowd, as with her strong daimoku from the backseat of the car. One thing’s clear: We’re raising successors here in Vermont. 

My prayer for them to bloom extends to all the youth of Vermont. However they progress, my role remains the same: to support them where they’re at, no matter what; to be like the sun, shining always, even on overcast days. It is a spirit I see alive in my daughters—ready for whatever rain, whatever storm—the conviction in the power of our prayer to part the clouds. 

August 18, 2023, World Tribune, p. 5

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