Karen hated her father and despised her mother.
Her father drank and beat her and her four older sisters. Their mother did nothing to stop him.
Karen lived in hell. Her father smashed in every door in the house, except the front door. Her mother started a garden and then was too drunk to care for it. Sections of it browned and died. Karen's mother drank to avoid dealing with the issues of her life.
Sometimes at night, a light would shine across their beds; then the silhouette of their father would darken the light. He came to beat them. They never knew why. Karen wanted to become invisible.
Karen was raised and protected by her sisters. One by one, they left the abusive house. One of her sisters married a black man and the father told her to never contact him again. He called his son-in-law racist names.
Karen saw other families on TV and in her neighborhood. They seemed so perfect. She wished her family were loving and supportive.
When the last of her sisters left, Karen was left alone with her drunken mother and abusive, drunken father.
She stopped wishing.
She left home as soon as she could. Within a year she was introduced to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. The only thing that she really wanted was a happy family. She could not believe that chanting could help, but she couldn't keep herself from chanting for a happy family anyway.
Karen has a theory based on her observation of Buddhist practice. She calls it the "Dumb Cargo" theory. It goes something like this:
"Sometimes we are too dumb to know what is the best thing to do — to make the best cause — to do the right thing. But if our practice is strong it seems like our lives have enough wisdom to put us at the right place at the right times to accomplish our dreams. So we are like dumb cargo that is always being directed toward our enlightenment by the Mystic Law in our lives."
Even though she had left home, she still spoke with her mother. Her mother was especially prone to binges when her husband went on business trips. Karen knew that her dad was leaving town so she called mother to see if she wanted company for lunch.
Her mother said: "Don't come."
Karen was bothered by that, but thought to herself: "If she doesn't want me to come, I'll see someone who appreciates my company."
Karen went to see a friend. After saying goodbye, she discovered that she could not find her keys. She called her sister and asked her to go to the parents' house to give her a ride home. She called a tow truck but the truck got lost. By the time Karen got to her parents' house, the front door was wide open and a neighbor was standing in the lawn.
"Go to the hospital immediately," he said.
At the hospital, her sister explained that their mother had fallen out of bed and landed in a way that cut off her breathing. But Karen's sister is a registered nurse and she had arrived just in time to save her (Dumb Cargo?). One by one, the other sisters showed up at the hospital.
They looked worried. Karen, for some unknown reason, was calm. The nurse motioned Karen to come into her mother's room. Karen thought that the other sisters should see their mother first, because they were the most worried. The nurse insisted that Karen and Karen alone came into the room. Her mom looked only barely alive. Karen reached for her hand and then was overwhelmed with a sense of compassion. It was stronger than any feeling that she had ever had. She could not stop herself from bending over and chanting "Nam Myoho-renge-kyo" into her mother's ear.
Her mother opened her eyes and said, "I need help. I have no control in my life." Her mother had never used those words.
While her mother was at the hospital, Karen visited her and tended the garden.
The doctors informed her mother that if she wanted to live she would have to stop drinking alcohol. The only way that she could quit was if her husband quit too. He agreed.
The sister who had married a black man was visiting the hospital with her husband and two children. Karen's father showed up at the hospital at the same time. When he meet his son-in-law he walked over to him, shook his hand and apologized.
After her mother got out of the hospital, she came home to a beautiful garden. She joined a horticulture club.
Last Thanksgiving, for the first time, Karen's father, mother, all her sisters, and all their husbands (or significant others) and children were in the same house. They ate lots of food, told stories, and trimmed the Christmas tree.
Karen thought about the wish that was always in her heart for a loving supporting family — just then her sister pulled open the curtains to reveal the snow that was falling. They were all snowed in.
None of them wanted to leave anyway.