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Life Stories

As Never Before

A ferocious prayer for my life and my son’s brings forth new strength and joy.

Gratitude—Bradley Schuller with his son, Conrad, and wife, Hadley, in Chicago, August 2022. Photo by Bob Nardi.

by Bradley Schuller

This past February, on the heels of the news that I would become a father, I developed some peculiar symptoms—fevers, chills, night sweats and alarming weight loss—prompting me to seek a doctor. When a CT scan showed dark spots all over my liver, the doctor, thinking it could be cancer, ordered an emergency biopsy. 

Early last year, my wife, Hadley, and I discovered that a natural conception was unlikely for us, and we began trying for a medically assisted conception. Between that March and August, Hadley underwent three rounds of treatment, none of which were successful. Each failed round devastated both of us. It also stirred up my long-held fears about becoming a father; I had always doubted my ability to fulfill the role. Was I ready?

In August, we were told that we could try again but that at this point we should expect to be unable to conceive. 

A senior in faith had visited us at our home, in our backyard, and reminded us that we have the Gohonzon—if this was our dream, we must never doubt and chant with ferocity to realize it. 

Chanting this way impacted the way I thought about work as well as fatherhood. With new responsibility at a global technology firm, I found myself doing the work of three. As my workdays extended late into the night and responsibilities piled up, I chanted abundantly, summoning the strength to be the pillar of my workplace as I awaited news that our child was on the way. Soon, I would stand up as the pillar of our new family. Work became my proving grounds. 

In October, the news did come. Incredibly, Hadley was pregnant! Because of my ferocious daimoku, I felt more ready than ever.  

Bradley and Hadley in Los Angeles, March 2022. Photo courtesy of Bradley Schuller.

And yet, something wasn’t right. As work settled down, I found myself slowing, too. I had been pulling 16-hour days for months. Now I was utterly spent by 5 p.m. Then came the symptoms, the biopsy, then silence; I’d need to wait a week for the results. 

In those uncertain days, this song, this Puccini aria, came to me, E lucevan le stelle, which I’d sung in my younger years, when I performed opera for a living. It is sung by a young painter in love, on the eve of his execution. Though I had performed it many times before, I had never truly grasped the depths of the young hero’s pain when he cries out, “And never before have I loved life so much!”

After having fought so hard to have a child together, my wife and I faced the extraordinary possibility that I may not be around to raise this child. Panicking, I reached out for guidance again, this time from a leader battling stage 4 cancer himself. 

“Look,” he said, “even if it is cancer, you have a mission only you can fulfill. Chant to live as long a life as possible, in the best health possible, to support your comrades and be present for your wife and child.” 

Facing my mortality, I sat down before the Gohonzon with a feeling of intense clarity. Chanting with ferocity, gratitude welled forth, for my life and everyone in it—for my wife, my work, my practice and mentor, for my unborn child. I have so much left to accomplish; I need plenty of time and life to do it! I went to bed feeling nothing but gratitude, hope and a powerful resolve to live out my mission. 

The results came: not cancer. The spots and my symptoms were merely the effect of a shot immune system exasperated by my preexisting diabetes. I obviously needed to take better care of my health, but I was OK.

As our baby’s due date neared, the doctors decided to induce labor. On June 7, we were admitted to the birthing room, filled with anticipation and excitement, confident we’d soon be bringing home our son, Conrad.

But Conrad took his time. The second night, I went downstairs for a quick dinner. When I came back, the room was a flurry of activity. The baby’s heart rate had dropped. Hadley needed an emergency cesarean section. I locked eyes with Hadley as she was wheeled from the room. She was afraid. Then I was alone. 

In the next instant, it seemed, a nurse was at my elbow.

My son had been born but wasn’t breathing.

For the merest instant, fear coursed through me, and then, with a ferocity that was by now second nature, I began to chant. I reached out to my comrades in faith, who responded that they, too, were chanting fiercely. I sensed this powerful wall of daimoku protecting Hadley and our son. After a few minutes, Conrad had been resuscitated, and I was brought to him. In an abundance of caution, he was taken to a neonatal intensive care unit. After a week, the doctor cleared him to go home early, saying his recovery was the fastest he had seen in months.

At work, I’ve earned the deep trust of my colleagues. At home, at the time of this writing, Conrad has just started to smile. Every obstacle overcome to get here has prepared me for this new chapter of my life, which is the greatest, actually. It is, indeed, even better than I could have asked for. And never before have I loved life so much. 

When an ordinary person attains Buddhahood … the three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.

Nichiren Daishonin, “The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 637)

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