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Something Great to Come

From a state of confidence, endings appear as the means for fresh growth. I’m Sylvia Dare from Galloway, New Jersey.

Sylvia Dare in Galloway, New Jersey, June 2023. Photo by David Goodman

Living Buddhism: The last several years seem to have been a series of challenges. But before that, please tell us about the earliest benefit you experienced from your Buddhist practice.

Sylvia Dare: That’s right. I was a struggling filmmaker and sound recordist living in Santa Monica, California, newly graduated from the University of Southern California, with no credentials in the industry. I was 29 when I landed a job working on a film set in Atlanta. As a young person with little experience and no connections, I was a nobody as far as the industry was concerned. And that’s how I was treated. But there was one person on that set, the director’s secretary, who treated me like a human being. As we got to talking and built a relationship, I learned that she was Buddhist.

“You can become happy right where you are, just as you are,” she told me. And I remember thinking: But how could that be? No one’s happy in Hollywood. But in this woman, this secretary, I seemed to have found at least one exception.

Her humanity convinced you to give it a try.

Sylvia: It did, definitely. But you know, her kindness notwithstanding, the key was that I was desperate. I don’t know that I’d have given Buddhism a try otherwise. I remember chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with her for the first time; I felt this inexplicable thrill: Everything’s gonna be good. There’s something ahead, something great to come! Had you asked me why I felt this way, I don’t think I could have given you a logical answer. As far as the industry was concerned, I was still a nobody. And yet, this self-confidence arose from my prayer, this conviction in the power of my life that had lain dormant.

Where did that prayer lead you?

Sylvia: Well, I did, indeed, land a job working as a filmmaker. But that venture was short-lived; very quickly I realized it was not for me! I went a completely different route. In 1987, I met my first husband and in 1994, we moved to New York, where I was raised, and started a family. There, I ventured into the field of educational publishing, first as a freelance agent, then full time.

“Nothing’s ever wasted”—we say this all the time in Buddhism. Much of the educational material I helped to produce was for children learning English as a second language, material that relies heavily on visuals and recordings. I found myself working with filmmakers, artists, sound engineers—a group with backgrounds similar to my own, similar to those of many of the people I’d worked with in LA. Only this environment felt better to me, more conducive to my growth. It was a field in which I developed myself immensely, one I worked in for over 20 years. It ended abruptly—shockingly, even—in 2015.

What happened?

Sylvia: In 2015, in quick succession, I learned that two of my life’s longest commitments were coming to an end: my 30-year marriage and 20-year career in publishing. With regard to the marriage, there was nothing nasty about its ending; still it proved to be a shock. It was the end of my career that really blindsided me. I’d been working for the same company for years as a project manager, and had understood that operations relied heavily on my department, which always delivered quality work. But apparently, we were not as irreplaceable as we’d imagined. In July 2015, my entire department was given three months’ notice.

What did you do?

Sylvia: Studied, sought guidance and chanted—intensely. I have to backtrack here to mention something—another major disruption, four years earlier, in 2011, when I was diagnosed with cancer.

That experience, more than any other, taught me to chant with determination, to clearly visualize the victory I wanted to see. By 2016, I’d overcome the cancer but not before learning what it means to challenge something head-on in faith. Now, jobless, I prayed with the same intensity, fusing my prayer for a job with a prayer to advance kosen-rufu.

Again and again, I summoned the courage to put myself out there. But time and again, offers fell through. Even the most extensive, promising interviews, after which I was all but offered the job, fell through, one after another. It was brutal, and there were days I wondered anxiously, How long will this last? In many ways, I was at the opposite end of where I’d been years ago, when I was a struggling youth cobbling together a name for myself in LA. I’d built up a robust portfolio and an impressive resumé, and you’d think that would be all to the good. But many employers didn’t see it that way. In their eyes, a robust portfolio meant a heavy price tag. At 62, it seemed to be weighing me down.

How frustrating! When did things take a turn for the better?

Sylvia: My professional connections and experience all lay in the publishing industry. For the longest time, it didn’t occur to me to look anywhere else. But it was like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; after two years of job hunting, two years of false starts and dead-end interviews, I began to feel that the universe was asking me to open up to other possibilities.

Visiting a young woman in my region one day, we got to talking about me and the job hunt. I’d recently applied on a whim for a job completely outside of my expertise, and, frankly speaking, a job I thought was beneath me, at a food market opening up in my neighborhood. When I mentioned the name of the place, she exclaimed, “Oh! They’re wonderful to their employees!”

When I got back home, I looked into it and found out she was right. The more I researched the place, the more interested I became in working there. That week, they called me. They wanted an interview.

They will never hire me, I thought. My resumé has nothing to do with this job. But the interview went really well, and afterward, I was more interested than ever. In June 2017, to my surprise, they offered me a job in the catering department.

What was your experience there?

Sylvia: My colleagues were a very different crowd than the one I’d worked with in publishing. Most of my peers at the market were homemakers, mothers who’d graduated from high school, raised families and then found work. Given my background (I’m quite tech savvy), there were times I felt a bit exasperated by one colleague who seemed to fear being left alone with a computer. But the more I worked with her and I saw her in action, the more I appreciated her strengths. She was wonderful with people and had a way of assuring them when they were flustered or uncertain that we would take care of them and meet their needs.

When the pandemic hit I was able to take time off. By this point, I was living on my own. One morning, while getting dressed, I got tripped up, taking a spill that broke my foot. On my own during the pandemic, recovering from the injury, I felt lonely. But I used this time to chant lots and lots of daimoku. As I did so, I felt the thrill I’d felt when I first encountered this Buddhism, as though poised on the edge of some new adventure. I’m gonna be fine. No matter what happens, everything’s gonna work out great! I felt … how to describe it—like a new member, like when I was young and just beginning my Buddhist practice, just discovering how wonderful it feels to chant. From this place of boundless optimism and confidence, I realized something: I wanted to share my life with someone.

Sylvia on a business trip in Cambridge, United Kingdom, October 2011.

What happened from there?

Sylvia: I never thought I’d be open to online dating, but in such a high life condition, I decided, very practically: This is a new century. These days, it happens all the time: People meet online! It took courage, but I started putting myself out there. As my foot healed, I started going on dates. I met a few guys but nothing clicked. That didn’t stop me though. This feeling that there was something to come wasn’t just about romance but an attitude toward life altogether. I chanted with confidence that the best path would open for me.

I met Bruce in September 2021 and we clicked immediately. Like me, he liked to be outdoors and to photograph nature. I found that he was kind, with a generous spirit. Not easily ruffled. Confident.

I’d just returned to work but decided a few weeks in to go part time. Where could I go? I asked the management. I put the question to the Gohonzon, too, chanting with victory in mind. Management came back with an offer: floral.

Now, that floral department is not what you see at your usual grocer’s. Not some potted buckets at the entry but a full-fledged operation. Roses, tulips, hydrangeas, you name it. People flocking in with questions, out with big bouquets, vases, custom arrangements. I loved the work, and it seemed that customers were affected by the beauty of the environment. My first day on the job, I was trimming rose stems. My co-workers were chatting pleasantly with one another or with customers. A gentleman had just come in, looking for flowers for his girlfriend.

“What kind,” he was asked, “what colors?”

“Well … maybe we could ask her,” he said. “She’s right there.” I realized then that I knew this voice, that it was Bruce’s, and that I was the girlfriend in question. I felt deep appreciation for him, for my life in general.

As of April this year, I retired from the flower store. Bruce and I have bought a home together in New Jersey, near the ocean. Of all the lessons learned over these few years, the greatest has been in confidence.

When I was a kid, my mother kept a garden where she planted all kinds of vegetables, garnishes and flowers. We had a string that ran up the east side of the house above a plot of morning glories. I remember sticking seeds in that plot and then watching, day by day, week by week, the morning glories pop out and twine their way up the string. Every morning, they’d open wide up to greet the morning sun, and then come evening close again. Close, open, close, open—a salute to nature. A fascinating flower, I always thought. And hopeful, expecting what’s to come: the sun and the fresh growth it brings.

From the August 2023 Living Buddhism

‘Forever in Rhythm With the Mystic Law’

The Heart of Propagating Buddhism