SGI Members reflect on how they are moving forward following the most devastating wildfire in California’s history.
In November, Northern California residents in Butte County faced the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record. The Camp Fire erupted on Nov. 8, burning 153,336 acres and causing 88 fatalities, with 196 residents still unaccounted for (as of Nov. 30). On the same day, the Woolsey Fire, ignited, affecting residents in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Nearly 97,000 acres burned, forcing the evacuation of 300,000. The fires were fully contained on Nov. 25 and 21, respectively.
SGI President Ikeda sent a message to the members, saying, “My thoughts are with you at this difficult time.” He then asked the local SGI-USA leaders to thoroughly offer encouragement to the affected members, while expressing his appreciation to everyone supporting these members.
I’m Not Defeated
by Janet Bautista
My husband and I lost everything in the Camp Fire. Even the valuable possessions we grabbed while evacuating were stolen from our van a few days later. In my 40 years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, this has been the most challenging time of my life.
We are currently staying in Northern California at my husband’s mother’s home. My husband requires 24-hour care, but now we’re without the proper facilities and equipment.
In the midst of doing my best to care for him and my mother-in-law, who has dementia, I had some meltdowns. But I’m not defeated. I’m chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and taking a step forward each day.
I’m so appreciative that SGI members called us right away and drove all the way to visit us. Even my son started chanting for the first time for my safety. Having people around that go out of their way to encourage me is truly a benefit.
I firmly believe that great good will come out of this. I feel liberated in my heart. Whether I move closer to my son in Colorado, or elsewhere, I’m determined to make the place where I stand into my mission for kosen-rufu.
We Can Always Rebuild
by Thomas George Haab
When I saw the orange sky and smoke from the Camp Fire, I was nervous. I just grabbed my puppy and drove off. It’s been a profound experience for me, and I know it’s thanks to my Buddhist practice that I’m all right.
My family members are surprised at how well I’m handling things. In the face of our devastated town, I found myself more concerned about others than myself—I wanted to impart hope. I know that doing so will help me grow and overcome my own negativity.
I really appreciate everyone thinking of me. Two men’s division members visited me immediately after, and even Janet Bautista (see left), who also lost everything, encouraged me to move forward. I see that having good friends in faith is so important for our lives.
I’m going to chant more consistently. Buddhism teaches that we can always rebuild, and I’m going to build something even better than before.
Finding Inner Peace
by Frankie Hernandez
Twelve years ago, my daughter Delilah and I went our separate ways, and we stopped speaking. At that time, I left an abusive marriage and started a new life in Malibu, California, with my younger daughter, Luna, who was 7 then.
Not long after, I received a call from the hospital that Delilah had tried to take her life. I was at her side as she recovered, but our relationship didn’t improve for another 10 years. I was heartbroken to say the least.
Then last year, I joined a July 4 celebration with Luna and was introduced to the SGI. The following month, Luna and I received the Gohonzon!
I prayed for many things, but my true happiness was to mend my family, and that my daughters would always be protected. I started to see my prayers answered when, out of the blue, Delilah, now 32, reached out to me. We began spending time together, and she would even call me for advice. Delilah, who had been planning to attend the October 2017 Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, for one reason or another, couldn’t participate. What unfolded was a deadly mass shooting there. I truly saw the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo manifesting in my family’s life.
As the Woolsey Fire approached Malibu, forcing Luna and me to evacuate our home on Nov. 9, we relocated to an area only two miles from Delilah. Amid tragedy, I was able to create value, and for two weeks, my daughters and I spent quality time together. Delilah took great care of us, and I could see how happy, respected and loved she had become. I was so proud of her.
When I returned home, I found my street spared from major damage. My apartment was unscathed, although the flames had been so close that they burned the plants on my adjacent neighbor’s balcony.
Just four days after the containment of the fire, Malibu District was able to hold its November discussion meeting. It was an amazing experience to be reunited with my Soka family. Some members had lost their houses and pets. Everyone had been affected, but we all determined to advance with hope. Luna, who is very active in the district and has blossomed greatly since starting her practice, sang a song, and afterward, we all enjoyed a Thanksgiving lunch. My growth in the past year has been in large part due to the unconditional support from the members of this district.
Looking back on my life, I had developed layers of inauthentic ways to cope with and survive my challenges. But now that I’m armed with my Buddhist practice, I’m removing those layers, all with a sense of peace inside.