Men are welcome into Masonry with a wide map of direction they can take. Each lodge ideally offers various projects and service opportunities, schools on ritual and floorwork, leadership development, and community outreach events. Moving further, each of the many appendant bodies offers more of all that in specific flavors and genres to suit each tastes, and often have sub-bodies for even more engagement and activities. Once you reach out to the wider community, you join a deep network of thousands of Brothers like yourself who would love for you to visit their lodge or help out at a regional event. Whether you want to present a lecture on the finest esoterism, ride your Harley Davidson, or even do both on the same weekend, Masonry will let you dive deep and immerse yourself among motivated peers.
For a good two years, I was an officer in nine different Masonic organizations ranging from theater usher to elected officer. I served on a few committees, drove hours a day to perform ritual for my own lodges or any nearby that needed a hand, acted in Scottish Rite theater productions, and spent weekends working degree days for York Rite. I was usually out at a meeting or degree three to four nights a week year-round, unless I got a call at work that some one needed a Deacon or a Steward. For just those occasions, I even kept a full suit and tie in my trunk ready for Masonic emergencies. Just in case. Doing casual math one day, I realized I was spending a minimum of one hundred and sixty nights a year serving as a Mason. And as a few reading this will instantly chime in…I could have been doing more than that. Some regulars were out even more than I was, driving farther, and performing bigger roles.
At first, I felt I’d cracked the code. ‘You get out of it what you put into it’, so the old Masters told me. I learned more about the ritual and history, I gained leadership experience and honed my management skills, I met hundreds of people all over my state. I became trusted by many, and they knew I’d always answer the call. This was being a good and upright Mason.
But as the years went by, the drives seemed to get longer. The meetings ran longer and later. Most nights I was getting in at midnight for six hours of sleep, then heading off to work which I jokingly called my eight-hour break from ‘my other job.’ Social events outside the Craft became more and more awkward as I lost touch with mainstream hobbies such as sports, movies, events around town, or even just hanging around with friends who weren’t in an officer line. My life after work was spent being a Mason in all its forms, and the only people I ever saw were Brothers and their families. We never talked about our jobs and other outlets, Masonry had become a monastery for people like me. But the work had to be done, we needed the slates filled, and this was what it meant to be a Mason. It meant being a bit miserable, but we all seemed to take a little solace in that.
I eventually faced a sobering truth. Masons like me were helping the fraternity as a second calling…But from the outside looking in, I was realizing how Brothers like us may be exhausting more than just ourselves. Our families and friends only saw us exhausted, dazed, and worrying about the next degree or official visit. Potential members knocking on our doors to join a benevolent secret society found workaholics stretched too thin, who could list their various past titles and committees…And not much else. As time wore on, I started looking around the room during the talks of dwindling membership and vanishing petitioner. I saw these same jaded faces night after night, and they saw mine just as often…Because this had become all we ever did.
I never had the time to look back and remember what drew me to become a Mason, amidst all this being a Mason. Long gone are the professors, business moguls, and politicians who retreated from their busy lives to center themselves in a lodge of other good men. We are not out in the world shining our light, making people wonder about the lapel pin we wear and knowing that’s where men like us gather. We’re in our lodges under the grey fluorescent lights, mouthing along to rituals we’ve seen hundreds of times and dreading the politics behind every vote and motion. Many active members can only list achievements, passions, and life experiences that are all purely Masonic. Unless, they’re also an Elk or Kiwani on the side…
If you talk about this lifestyle to a person off the street, they would hear a lot of unusually grand adjectives said with an uncannily straight face by a tired man worn out by something he volunteered for. Would I have joined if I only met people this isolated and immersed? Worst of all, was this all really making me a better human being...Or was I just becoming a better member of a fraternal organization?
My exit from full-time Masonry was not easy, and I still cringe looking back at the damaged bridges it left behind. But that first week where I realized I had every night off to myself, there was a faint ember of a warmth I hadn’t felt in two years. Whether I took a walk down the street or flew to another continent, I could really get out there and see the world again wherever it took me. I could slowly meet myself again, remember what I really found fun or interesting, with less time holding a gavel and more time learning and experiencing things I’d never seen before. That same curiosity that drew me into Masonry was now free at last.
Right now, I’m almost just as busy as I was as a professional Mason…But sincerely, I’ve never been happier. I’m studying martial arts and doing fitness classes, finishing a degree part-time, wandering random seminars and weekend courses, and when I’m lucky I get to camp or go backpacking. For a few nights a month, I am a truly born-again Mason who sees every ritual like I when I was initiated. Because now, these are tools and teachings I am carrying with me and rediscovering in the world around me. An accepting mind listens to those I do not initially agree with or understand. Love for the liberal arts and sciences draws me to be a student of experts and mentors of all kinds. Devout justice guides my degree in management. Trained discipline gets me into the gym every day. The ancient magic of geometry guides my footwork as I spar and flow. Care for mankind keeps my eyes on those around me as well as my own goals, never hesitating to offer a hand to those in need.
In the hours I don an apron and jewel, I care more about the Craft not as an obligation, but as an outlet to further better myself and enhance my personal journey. I have more knowledge to apply to our mission, and I have more to offer my Brothers if they take an interest I have experience in. And when I retire from our gatherings to wander these other paths and pursuits, on various occasions someone has asked me about a small piece of jewelry they noticed or about a picture they saw on my Facebook. I’ve talked about the Craft on the sidelines of fighting tournaments and gathered around campfires, with admirable people I never would have encountered if I hadn’t applied the forgotten working tool and added balance to my life.
To the Brothers reading this, I commend you and thank you for your contributions to the Craft in every form. But do not leave behind what makes you an individual, and never stop looking for ways to improve yourself in the greater world as well as in Masonry. It does not make you a worse Mason to branch out and diversify. It will leave you a much more satisfied and talented man with stories to tell and wisdom to pass on, who may just inspire others to join the fraternity because of the qualities you carried with you from your Masonic journey into the world we serve each day.
Brother Guide Sobecki of Geneva Lodge No.139 is the Junior Warden of Gourgas Chapter of Rose Croix, Valley of Chicago Scottish Rite as well as Preceptor of Illinois York Rite College No. 15. He works as a public relations specialist and ghostwriter for the national association of neurosurgeons. He holds the rank of Companion at Arms in the art of medieval longsword fighting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.