The Beehive, Idle Hands, Combat Veterans and PTSD
by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Robert Patrick Lewis
The beehive has always been one of the more enigmatic and puzzling symbols for me in Masonry. I’m not sure why...on the outside it seems so simple, but as we are taught throughout our Masonic careers, Masonry is like an onion, where every sign and symbol has layers upon layers of meanings which may be contemplated.
At the first level, the beehive represents fastidiousness, work ethic, and the idea that when we divide our days as Masons should, the section devoted to labor should be used accordingly. My father taught me a very Masonic lesson throughout my childhood, that “no matter what my lot in life or what I do, I should always put my best efforts into my labor and expect to be judged by it one day.”
As a combat veteran, this symbol of the beehive and idea that I should put all of my efforts into whatever I’m doing, whenever I’m doing it has taken on a whole new perspective, and helped me to understand what the beehive means to me, in terms of my personal life.
As an author and veteran advocate on many fronts, I’m often asked why it is that while I had some issues with PTSD after my last trip to Iraq, I’ve been able to bounce back so quickly.
Many attribute it to Special Forces training and selection, thinking that my brain was selected for some innate difference, my uncanny ability to compartmentalize the horrible things I’ve seen and be able to lock them away when the demons grow too loud.
I attribute it to Masonry, and the beehive.
You see, I took my dad very seriously when he told me to always put my best efforts into whatever I do, and have tried to live my life in that way. I made it through the grueling Special Forces selection process by applying that thinking to everything I did, telling myself that if I already knew I was being tested every day, at least there was no question in my mind of how important my output was.
In Masonry I learned not only to put everything I had into whatever efforts I was pursuing, but to also divide my day so that it wasn’t all work; with my personality type and drive, if that lesson had never been learned I would work myself to death and not even realize it until my soul was on the eternal journey to the Lodge built with no hands.
But most importantly, I believe that my faith in the beehive, division of my day and living by the plumb have been the most important factors in the difference between me and those veterans who find themselves wracked with the horrors of wars past, drug & drink addiction, and an inability to fall back into the step of civilian life.
I truly believe the old adage that “idle hands are the devils tools,” and have found that time and again those who have the most difficulty coming home from war are those who have nothing to come back to.
Being idle starts a man on the dreadful downward spiral; he sits at home because he can’t find a job, and gets a little depressed so maybe he starts drinking, or gets into drug abuse. That keeps him inside rather than in the sun, where the suns rays are necessary for the brain to release natural anti-depressant chemicals and vitamin D.
His sleep cycles are also disrupted via the lack of sunlight and booze and/or drugs, which not only cause a higher level of depression but also sap away the motivation he once had to even get outside and find a job.
Like any downward spiral this one may be broken, but the man, veteran or Mason finding himself there needs a little help breaking it. This can come in the form of friends, family, Brethren, or the symbolic meaning of the beehive.
I’m again fortunate that my upbringing and personal internal fire never allow me to rest on my laurels very long, and as soon as I left the Army I was off onto other adventures in the private sector. But I’ve seen many a fellow veteran or civilian standing in the unemployment line or asking for change on the street corner and can’t help to wonder what change a teaching of the beehive symbology would represent in his life.
Perhaps it is such a profound and integral part of Masonic symbolism because of that downward spiral, and that in the attempt to make “good men better” the symbol is used to teach us that not only should we stay busy, but that if we do allow ourselves to rest for too long, the beehive may die and we along with it.
Masonry uses more than a few exoteric seeming symbols to explain or allude to the esoteric results. The idea that when we stop the pursuit of living our 8 hours of labor as the symbolic beehive we begin to fall downward resonates deeply with me from my own personal experience and observation, and I feel that while we use the symbol of the beehive to represent fastidiousness, it is also used as a warning.
So I ask that if you ever find yourself slumping into the downward spiral, bored with your job, feeling helpless, going outside or socializing less, and allowing your own working tools to become idle, just remember the beehive.
We are each a Light of our own within the Lodge, and subsequently a bee within the beehive of the great Lodge. The brighter the Light or louder the buzz comes from what we have to offer, how we live our lives, and what we bring to Masonry.
In that, I believe that it is our solemn duty as Masons to use every second the GAOTU has given us on the earth to its fullest, in each of the divisions of our day.
So buzz on, Brother bumblebees, and never forget the importance of that great symbol.