We are letting our history pass without hearing it
What first caught my eye was that all 12 pages, including the title page and bibliography, were handwritten. For a kid who grew up in the 1980s who wrote to pen-pals, I can't remember the last time I opened a piece of mail in the past five years that was handwritten. I read on.
"There are 33 such degrees in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. Is 33 a mystic number some inherent numerical meaning?"I was hooked. I read the entire paper that afternoon when I came home after work. Bro. Jim also included photocopies of his supporting documentation to source his research. As a graduate studies student, I felt like I was reading college-level work.
In April, two more handwritten papers arrived in the mail.
At the end of June, I received another familiar package which included the note, "Bro. Michael, attached is my latest presentation. I know you will find this interesting, Bro. Jim." He had sent me the "Lost Secrets of the Sacred Ark." I read it before dinner. I pictured every Sunday school lesson from my childhood while reading his work. That night before bed, I put a reminder in my phone to call Bro. Jim the next morning, I wanted to know his story.
The morning I called Bro. Jim at home, I had two questions for him. The first, I wanted to seek his permission to share the text of his work on The Midnight Freemasons site. He gave me an enthusiastic "YES!" I intended to do just that today, but his answer to my second question made it difficult to summarize the one-hour discussion we shared in one paragraph. My second question was, "Why did you join Masonry so late in life?"
Bro. James Simpson is "almost" 80-years old. When he took my call just before the Independence Day weekend, he shared that he's "taking a hiatus this summer because my mind is getting tired." Due to the detail of his papers, I imagine that he must be one of those Brothers that has a personal Masonic library that has taken over a room of his house. "I even have my photocopy machine," he included after laughing at my suggestion. He's retired and lives with his wife, who he lovingly cares for. He had to cut our first call a little short that morning because he heard that his wife was awake, he wanted to check on her and needed to go take care of errands that morning.
Meanwhile, I went back to re-reading the papers that he sent me. I started highlighting parts that perhaps I could inquire about in our follow up call. The detail of his work, it was impressive. I was also amazed by his writing style or voice -- he wrote like how he spoke, clear and plain. He was able to take ancient biblical history or the esoteric ideas of chakras and explain them to the uninformed. I was surprised to learn that Bro. Jim barely made it out of high school. Our second call that afternoon, picked up with his answer to my question on why he joined the Fraternity later in life.
"I'm originally from Boston, knew nothing about Masonry. I grew up in a poor family. Everywhere I went I saw Masonic rings. I was 21 the day I saw the temple in Boston, It fascinated me. I asked a guy wearing a Masonic ring who was drinking a cup of coffee about the building. I wanted to know about the Masons. He walked away and said, "Its a secret." I started tending bar professionally a few months later, and the years passed. Years later, I met a Mason when I was working for the State of New York, and that's how I joined. I wish I would have joined earlier," Bro. Jim explained. He was raised in 2007. Masonically, he was only a handful of years older than me. That got another laugh.
What surprised me was that he started writing about five years ago. After he was raised, he started reading and didn't stop. He had so many ideas that he wanted to share his knowledge. This started with "scribbled paragraphs that I would read in my Blue Lodge," he said. And how were his ideas received? He was thanked with not much discussion. "That was pretty much the end of it. There's no discussion because the speaker is the only one who has done the reading on the subject. But, others will come to you and thank you for sharing the matter. (Just as he did with me) Don't be discouraged! All of the Brothers I have known are interested in becoming more adept in the craft as it relates to their position in the Lodge." He wasn't the first, nor sadly the last, to learn that some of Freemasonry's esoteric thoughts and ancient history some times fail to connect with the Brothers.
In my case, learning ritual is what caused me to seek that additional Light that was promised to me. My moment came when I was reading the Historical Lecture in the first degree, and wanted to learn more about The Point Within A Circle. Little did I know, I had just landed one of the many Masonic Jackpots of knowledge. I spent lunch breaks watching YouTube videos, started looking for texts on the subject, and began asking other Brothers for their ideas. Now I have a shelf on my bookcase filled with resources on the topic. "I wish I were a lot younger. I would have read up on the ritual," Bro. Jim said. There was also a tone of regret in his voice. "I wish I spent more focus on learning ritual. I'm almost 80 years old, so I had to divide my time on learning from books."
I will be converting Bro. Simpson's papers to text, my hope is to share them with you as I receive them. He is one of many of our craft's hidden gems. It is important to me that the library of history in his mind, the handwritten papers that he freely shares with any interested Brother, that knowledge continues to be accessed. I understand, not all Masons seek the additional Light that was promised to us in the degree ritual --- but we should. We all began as Entered Apprentices with a desire to know and learn. We need to secure for future generations those "scribbles" that can spark great ideas or thoughts for an entire Craft.
Brother Michael Arce is a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy, New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org