A Load Too Heavy
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Adam Thayer
No load is too heavy if there are enough brothers to help carry it. This is one of my core beliefs, and I am in hopes that soon you will share this sentiment as well.
When I first started thinking about this topic, I was in the middle of a Master Mason’s degree. Our candidate had just had his fateful meeting with the third ruffian, and was on his emblematical final journey through the lodge. As we were carrying him, I thought to myself “If any of us tried to carry him alone, we would surely injure ourselves, but because there are enough of us to help, it’s not that difficult.”
It’s a phenomenon we don’t really discuss amongst ourselves very often. There we were, at the beginning of his Masonic career, showing our new brother in the most literal way possible that there would always be enough brothers around to carry him through the rough times in his life.
Less than a week later, I found myself carrying another brother into that same lodge room for his true final journey: our brother had passed, and we were requested to hold a Masonic funeral service for him in our lodge building. Again I thought “What a fitting tribute to such a fine man and Mason! This is only possible because there are enough brothers here who loved him so much that they came to help carry the load.”
It was a perfect symbolic mirror; we once carried that brother at the beginning of his Masonic journey, and here we were again, carrying him on his final Masonic journey.
At the beginning and end of our Masonic journeys, there are enough brothers present to carry us, but what about in between? Are there enough brothers there to help carry us through the hazards and vicissitudes of life?
The question could, of course, be easily turned around: we carry our brothers at the beginning and end of THEIR Masonic journeys, but what do we do to help them in between? Isn’t it the time between that gives us the greatest chance for impact in their lives?
As I sat down to my keyboard, finally feeling ready to write out these ideas that had been running through my brain, I thought about our new brother, who has a great Masonic career ahead of him, and I thought about our departed brother, who had a fantastic Masonic life behind him, but most importantly I thought about these two fantastic quotes.
The first was from the great English poets The Hollies. Now, if you aren’t familiar with The Hollies, they were a British band from the 1960’s, and their big claim to fame is that Graham Nash started his music career with them. In their most popular song, they said: “The road is long, with many a winding turns that leads us to who knows where. So on we go. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. His welfare is of my concern. No burden is he to bear. But I’m strong! Strong enough to carry him. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
What a beautiful sentiment! Not only does it remind us that we’re responsible to our brothers, but that it should be a joy to help each other out. The promise of Masonry is to make good men better, which means it should make us strong enough to carry our brother during his moments of weakness, and caring enough to want to.
Of course, this shouldn’t be news to anyone who has learned their Master Mason obligation - we promise to help our brothers when they ask us for help, although I can’t help but wonder how many of us, myself included, are too stubborn and proud to ask for help.
Gentlemen, our journeys are difficult, often painful, and there is no guarantee as to where they will lead us, except to that final, inevitable destination. If we attempt to undertake these journeys alone, we will, without a doubt, utterly fail.
As Masons, we are obligated to help our brothers on that journey. Their welfare is of our concern. We’re strong enough to help carry their load, so they don’t have to carry it alone. No load is too heavy, if there are enough brothers to help carry it. This begs the question, then, who is my brother?
I’ve found, and discarded, many theories as to who is considered a brother. Is it only a man who is in good standing in a regularly recognized lodge? If so, that excludes Prince Hall Masons in eight U.S. jurisdictions, as well as a number of early American Masons whose Grand Lodges did not conform to our idea of regular recognition. Even worse, it would exclude as Masons a man who could not, for whatever reason, afford to pay his dues. Does our duty to a brother really cease the moment he goes NPD? Expanding on that definition, then, is it only a man who is in good standing with ANY Masonic lodge? That presents difficulties too; it would include as Masons men who are in jurisdictions that my Grand Lodge doesn’t recognize, but yours might. Can you imagine the nightmare of asking a brother to prove his proper Masonic affiliation while he’s suffering and asking you for help?
In trying to define who exactly my brother is, I’m reminded of the parable of the Samaritan. In the Christian Scripture of Luke, Jesus was teaching about loving one's neighbor, when one man asked who his neighbor was. Now, very little context is given, but I can clearly picture this man looking hard for a loophole.
Jesus, being a fantastic salesman, replied by giving a story with three different examples, and asking which of the three had acted in the most neighborly fashion. The answer, of course, was the one who stopped to help the stranger, regardless of what had happened in their past stations. I cannot begin to assume to tell you who your brother is, but I would encourage you to think like the Samaritan and use the broadest definition available to you, regardless of regularity and recognition. I have no doubt that I just lost some of you at that. “Why should I help a man who is a clandestine Mason? Doesn’t that break my obligation?” Before the Jurisprudence Committee clamps down on me, let me explain.
You, as a human, have an obligation to humanity, as dictated by the Great Architect. In nearly every religion available to us, we are charged with a duty to make the world a better place for each other, to help and love one another, and in our Masonic degrees we are told that our Masonic obligations are never to interfere with those duties. In my home state of Nebraska, we are specifically told that Masonry should never interfere with our duty to God, our country, our neighbors, or ourselves. Extrapolating that, with what we’ve already discussed, I would posit that our duty to a man exists even when he is a clandestine Mason.
Have the lawyers put down their pitchforks? Good, then let’s continue.
I mentioned earlier that I had two inspirations for this, and the second one is from 16th century poet-slash-cleric John Donne. In the grips of a life threatening illness, he wrote a series of meditations, or devotions. On the seventeenth day, while a fever was gripping his entire mind, he wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
No Freemason is an island, which is to say that we are all dependent on others for our well being and growth. We are all a part of the greater whole which is Freemasonry. If one of us is lost, we are all diminished. Our world becomes a little bit colder, a little less filled with joy, when one of our own joins the celestial lodge.
All the more reason, then, to do all we can today to fill our lodges with the joy of fellowship! Who wants to stand at the funeral of one they loved and say “I could have helped him in his struggles, but I didn’t because I was too busy”? Better by far to say “I gave my all for this brother, and he never doubted that he was loved.”
I hope I’ve convinced you. I’m not naive enough to believe that one short paper (ok, short for me at least) will change the world, or even change Masonry. But I am naive enough to believe that making a small change within a small group of people will, given time, snowball, and change the world.
I’ll leave you with this final thought, from the great philosopher Fred Rogers: “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” What are you leaving?