When Least Expected

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
R.W.B. Michael H Shirley

On the surface, at least, this short essay has nothing to do with Masonry. But it is a reminder that, as the Craft reminds us daily, life is a fragile thing. There are many men who are Masons in their heart, but who never petition for degrees. Tony is one of them.

I wasn't doing anything notable when the text came through. "Check Facebook if you can," my wife said. "Tony has cancer." I did. A friend of ours, too young to be called an old friend, really, had just learned he had colon and liver cancer. He and his wife, whom we'd known just as long, had told their girls, the youngest in pre-school. The girls were ok, they said. Just pray. Please. Pray for us.

That's one thing they don't need to worry about. We'd met at the University of Illinois, when Deb and I were both grad students and Tony and Alex were undergrads. Tony, Alex, and I were in choirs together, and Deb was part of the Newman Center crowd. Along with many other friends, we'd sung, prayed, laughed, and been young together, although I was the old man of the group. We loved one another, with unconditional acceptance. Still do. We're scattered now, changed, with kids, careers, and stay in touch sporadically, keeping track by Facebook and texts. And now this.

I'm a cancer survivor, and I know how frightening it is. Mine was relatively mild, caught early, and cured. But I know what that feeling is like, to face the possibility of leaving everything you love, with dreams and hopes unfinished. My friends and family prayed for me, but I'm not enough of an egotist to think God took special notice and said, "those prayers are good ones. A cure it is." I do know that friends mattered. Their prayers, their love, were important. They still are.

It's too early to know anything. It's too early to do anything but pray and be there if we're needed for anything more. It's too early for this to be anything other than shocking for all of us who know them and love them. So we'll love them, and pray for them, and hope they know we will be there for anything they need. All of us. Always.


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley is Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master for the Eastern Area for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M, as well as a Certified Lodge Instructor and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. A Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332, a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua Wisconsin and he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.

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