Monday, June 27, 2016

The Co-Mingling of Grief and Gratitude — My written tribute to my “Bahá’í dad” and the Bahá’í community

Two prominent themes for me this year have been grief and gratitude. Since December 2015, three people dear to me have died. Losing each of these people hit me hard, while at the same time stoked in me a great sense of gratitude for the fact they were in my life at all.

In my previous blog post, you read my tribute to my Granddaddy Huber (who died in late 2014), as it was published in the book 365 Moments of Grace; in this post, you’ll read my tribute to John Suggs, based on a personal-growth talk I presented at the SGI Buddhist Center in Southfield in April.

Since I’ve been practicing Buddhism, a challenge I’ve dealt with has been the deaths of three father-figures — my two grandfathers, and my friend John Suggs, whom I saw as my honorary father in my previous faith community. John died February 28 of this year, after a two-year battle with cancer.

Before I was Buddhist, I was a Bahá’í for twelve years. John was one of the first Bahá’ís I met, and in early 2010 he became a pivotal person in my life. John hosted a drumming circle at his home in Romeo, open to anyone. About a third of the attendees were Bahá’ís, and the rest represented various faiths, and even no faith. Most of the attendees were young enough to be John’s children, so for us John and his wife Christa were our communal parents, and we were all brothers and sisters.

Eventually I drifted away from the Bahá’í Faith, and blended pieces from various religions to come up with a very customized—and rather isolated—personal spirituality. I didn’t have a good system for dealing with life-changing challenges, such as the death of someone close to me. My spiritual practice didn’t teach me anything for how to improve aspects of my life that needed improving, such as my tendencies to isolate myself when going through emotional turmoil, dismiss people from my life when they became emotionally challenging, or acquire knowledge and spiritual wisdom for myself without sharing it with people in a way we could all benefit from. (Some of these I still struggle with, and have more work to do to overcome them.)

January 24 was the second-to-last time I saw John; he was in the hospital, getting stabilized enough to go home for his final days. When I entered his room, he greeted me cheerfully, and then got an earnest look on his face and beckoned me over to ask me a question. He asked me if “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” is my Buddhist chant.

To say I was touched by this is an understatement. For me, the fact that somewhere within the past few months this Bahá’í leader, in the process of concluding his life, had taken the time to find out something central to Nichiren Buddhism to say to me, was like receiving the kind of blessing that adult offspring seek from their parents when they make a life decision that is contrary to the family heritage.

I’ve heard comments from a lot of people who move from one religion to another that indicate they have resentment toward their previous community, or for the whole religion. One common reason for this is the way they’re treated in response to expressing views contrary to the community. I felt that “coming out” to my Bahá’í friends would be a friendship test. Through the responses I’ve gotten to telling them I’m now Buddhist, I realized how many unconditional friends I have, and how important they still are to me. I was glad to see that my karma has connected me with people who are secure enough in their own beliefs that they do not feel threatened by the idea of someone leaving their ranks for another spiritual path.

This experience has taught me the importance of honoring how I got where I am, honoring the ties with people and other spiritual communities that helped prepare me for embracing Nichiren Buddhism, and to be a better friend to all the people who’ve welcomed me into their hearts and homes, regardless of religion or religious differences.

Image: "Elemental Synergy" by Karla Joy Huber, Prismacolor and Sharpie marker, 2011


  1. Karla, This is a beautiful piece. I think I was supposed to met with you. It escapes me now how I missed this. Everything since the day John walked on has be a fog of pain. I literally feel like my heart is missing and my brain is offline. To say I hurt as much today as the day he left is an understatement. In retrospect any conversation I had at that time would ha been premature. I was still in SHOCK- a physiological shock. I am sorry I missed you. I knew that chant to. Right after I became a Baha'i and before moving to Detroit, it was on of the chants i used to repeat 95 time while I walked. I think I had one from every tradition. I now remind myself not to do that unless you are ready for great spiritual tests. All that chanting opened a window to the Divine and it blew through and changed everything. While i am grateful to have Been John's Best Friend, the grief is very intense .

    1. Thank you very much for sharing, Lin. Indeed, chanting does open a great karmic door for us, and much of what comes out can be very painful. As you wisely understand, we do have to be ready for it, otherwise it's no good to try to force ourselves to maintain that spiritual practice. You asked me how Buddhism has helped me in dealing with death, and I have started to answer that question in my next post, July 2. ~ Peace