How the 50K movement has reignited my joy and mission in life following the loss of my son.
by Babe Evans
One of my first prayers when I joined the SGI at 23 was inspired by SGI President Ikeda’s book The Creative Family. In it, he writes: “What I call the creative family or the creative household is like a school where people work for their own and for others’ self-improvement, drawing on the love that flows between them . . . What is already accepted as esthetic, beauty derived from others, will fade in comparison to what emerges from the creative family” (p. 9).
I prayed for that kind of home.
My journey to build a creative family started in 1987, when I married my friend and love, Art. We began raising his 9-year-old son, Ogadae, together, and two years later, at 39, I gave birth to our son, Sage.
Sage went everywhere with us as a baby and a young child, including all my SGI activities. Art and I fully embraced him when, in his teens, he told us that he was gay. By the time Sage graduated from high school, he learned to use his strengths to become an advocate for justice, helping so many young people with his smile, sincere friendship and hope for life. This was our creative family.
But on May 7, 2016, everything changed. Five days before Sage’s 27th birthday, his car spun out of control, resulting in a fatal crash.
When I learned of my son’s fate, I collapsed and kept thinking to myself: Why was I not protected? I spent my youth fighting for the happiness of others in the hopes that my own sons would have happy lives.
Art and I were overwhelmed with grief. The SGI leaders and members rallied at our local SGI-USA center that day and fortified our broken hearts with daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo]. Still, it was so difficult for us to stay in front of the Gohonzon. We would cry, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and cry some more.
A few days later, my stepson, Ogadae, received a Facebook message from a woman who was with Sage at the time of his death. She had been jogging in the area when the car accident happened. She had unhooked Sage’s seatbelt, told him to breathe and stayed with him until the emergency vehicles arrived. She was there to comfort my son in his final moments in my stead. I realized that Sage had not been alone. He was protected.
His life united our Buddhist and Christian friends, as we celebrated his 27th birthday by making positive determinations out loud, and over 650 people attended his memorial service.
Although appreciative of all the love and support Art and I received, I fell into a deep depression. My husband and I continued to chant one day at a time, sometimes barely holding on to our daily practice. The few SGI meetings that I did attend, I felt like I was going to fall apart. Members would come up to me and be so sincere, but it would fill me with emotion.
With the help of many seniors in faith, however, I realized that I had to see things not through tear-filled eyes but through the eyes of faith. I knew I couldn’t remain sad for the rest of my life; my son would never want that.
These words from President Ikeda resonated in my heart: “What is true joy in life? This is a difficult question—and one that has occupied a great many thinkers and philosophers.
“Joy can quickly give way to suffering. Joy is short and suffering long. Also what passes for joy in society is superficial. It cannot compare with the joy derived from the Mystic Law, which, as Nichiren Daishonin says, is the ‘greatest of all joys’ (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 212).
I realized that I had to see things not through tear-filled eyes but through the eyes of faith.
“The key, then, lies in cultivating a state of mind where we can declare without reservation that life itself is a joy. This is the purpose of Buddhist practice” (Sept. 26, 1997, World Tribune, p. 8).
Going through my grieving process amid the 50,000 Lions of Justice movement reawakened my lifelong desire to build that creative family wherever I am, and I have reignited my faith through the pillars of faith, practice and study. As I began registering youth for the 50K Festival, it revived in my heart my lifelong prayer and vow to strive for the development and growth of all youth.
Taking action toward this movement enabled me to not only recognize the devilish functions in my life attempting to block me from the path of Buddhahood, but also to defeat them. I now seek to see my life through the lens of my vow for kosen-rufu.
I still receive calls from young people who were moved by Sage’s spirit and heart. I’ve met several of them and helped them register for the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival. In fact, four of the eight youth I’ve helped register were Sage’s friends. He may not physically be here, but we are fighting side by side for kosen-rufu, as mother and son, transcending time and space.
I continue to work in education, theater and mentorship programs for inner-city youth, which help me heal day by day. My husband and I are doing as much as we can behind the scenes with our prayers and frontline activities to ensure the absolute victory of the 50K Festival.
I will fight to increase my daimoku and fulfill my promise to my mentor to never give up on my family’s happiness, no matter what! I have a wonderful, creative family in the SGI, and, just as Sensei had promised, I can declare that I now have joy.