by Alice Quaye
I was known as the most rebellious of my eight siblings. My mother, a very sharp woman, had high expectations for us, expectations I could never fulfill. She made it clear that I was her biggest disappointment.
Although I had always searched for happiness, I never knew where to find it. I only found myself surrounded by negative influences. With no self-respect or direction in life, I turned to drugs in my youth, especially marijuana—a lot of marijuana. I eventually tried almost every street drug available.
By my 20s, I felt I was failing as a single mother to my son Lonnie and was so unhappy that I contemplated suicide one night. Only the thought of failing even at that prevented me from going through with it.
The next day, a gentleman on the train convinced me to go to an SGI meeting. That was in February 1975. Looking around the room and hearing people chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I felt great relief—as if I had come home. I went through my ups and downs in those early years of practice. I became a better mother to Lonnie, and in 1978 I met my life partner, Sam, whom I later married. Three years later, however, we lost our 5-month-old daughter, Dede, to an incurable liver disease. Though devastated, I realized through my many hours of chanting that her mission was to enable me to transform my karma and become the happiest woman. Four years after her death, I gave birth to my son Nii.
My practice gave me inner peace, but I felt I needed more strength to become a person who would never be unprepared for that kind of pain again. What better way, I thought, than to join the Chicago Police Department and expose myself to the suffering on my city’s streets, so I did just that.
Each morning, I chanted two hours before work to be filled with respect for each person I encountered and to never use my gun. I continually shared Buddhism with co-workers and people on the street. I even encouraged people I arrested and told them about Buddhism. Because of this attitude, people would always tell me, “There’s something different about you.” And after 29 years as a police officer, I pulled out my gun only once, and only to back up my partner, but I never had to use it.
My Buddhist practice also helped me transform my relationship with my mother. I went from the child she had no hope for to the most trusted. In her final years, when she needed in-home care, she asked to live with me. She said she knew she would be OK with me close by. In fact, whenever one of my siblings had an obstacle, she would tell them, “Do what your sister does, chant!”
I’ve become the person I always wanted to be: someone who is happy and can help others become happy. This doesn’t mean that I lack struggles, but I know how to transform every hardship into value. My current challenge is that Sam—the man with whom I’ve been to hell and back—has been diagnosed with dementia. I dedicate most of my days to caring for him, and his illness has encouraged me to strengthen my faith even more.
I view his illness as another way for him to express his love and appreciation for me. It allows me to go through this struggle with him while continuing to show me the power of our Buddhist practice. Even though he can’t remember much, the first and last thing he says every morning and night is “Did we do gongyo yet?”
At the end of the day, when I snuggle next to him, my heart overflows with joy as I think about how fortunate we are to continue to create value together.
Compared to Alice 46 years ago, I’m a completely different person at my core. I don’t have a fancy new house or anything like that. But I’m very happy and content. My husband, sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are happy. We have changed our destiny—and you can’t buy that with money. Regrets happen, but I chant to change them into benefits; and at this stage in my practice, I can see the benefit in anything.
Q: What advice would you give to newer practitioners?
Alice Quaye: Trust your prayer. When you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no prayer goes unanswered. Your wishes may not manifest right away, but your hopes and dreams in the depths of your life will surely come true at the right time when you stick with this practice.