Last year about this time, I was scrambling to get ahead podcasting, writing, and anything else that I could schedule to be released via the web while I would be in Springfield Illinois. Why would I be in Springfield? Because ever since 2013, I have gone to Grand Lodge Sessions in Illinois. It's always the first Friday and Saturday after the first Tuesday in October of each year. And we're getting really close to that now.
Except, this year it isn't happening. You see, for the past three years, I've packed my overnight bag, grabbed a deck of cards, and bought a nice bottle (pick your poison), and hopped on a Metra train to Union Station in Chicago, and from there boarded the Amtrak on a Business Class ticket to Springfield Illinois. Once there, we walked the two blocks to the Abraham Lincoln Hotel, right across from the convention center where the Grand Lodge of Illinois holds its Annual Meeting.
This year, the Grand Lodge Sessions will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the plus side, I don't have to take two days off of work. Actually, I don't know if that's a plus. I rather enjoyed taking those two days off and spending them with my Brothers--my best friends in the whole world. Yep, I'll be a regular working stiff that Thursday and Friday. Now I know there are a lot of Brothers who can't attend Grand Lodge Sessions regularly, but for me, I do. And this whole thing just sucks.
Perhaps, however, we can make the best of it. I'll gather together with Scott, Spencer, and Julian, and maybe we can go out to dinner on Friday night. We can sit around the table and share war stories, our hopes, our dreams, and speculate on what the first-ever virtual Grand Lodge Sessions will accomplish.
Perhaps on Saturday evening, after the news trickles out on what we've decided to do in terms of the previous and upcoming Masonic year, we can go grab some pizza and have a few beers. You know, make the best out of a weird situation. As I sit and type this, I'm starting to have a bit of a revelation. Maybe it's not Grand Lodge Sessions that I'm sad about missing...Yep, it's definitely not the sessions. Endless introductions, reports that are approved before there ever read, and the most meaningful things that could be read, aren't. Grand orations. The report on the committee of Masonic Education. Celebrating our best and brightest secretaries, Brothers, and educators.
Maybe, what I feel like I'll be missing is a gently rocking Amtrak train--Business Class, the finest microwavable club-car delicacies, spicy Masonic memes, intellectual conversations, and a laughter that seems to echo in my head, even now. OOOWIEEE! and that Amtrak WiFi...it ain't all that bad. Yeah, this year will be different.
Each year, the trip home from Springfield on the Amtrak seems to feel like, for me anyway, like someone died. I remember as an only child, growing up in a home with a single mom. We lived in the Midwest and my entire family and all my friends were in California. My mother, in her infinite wisdom (and I am not being facetious), moved us to Illinois, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the West Coast. Of course, my friends could never fly back to see me. Well, there was this one time my friend Chris came out to visit. They stayed for about five hours or so. But that was it. And when they left, it always felt so strange. Like something had been not taken away but erased. Erased, but somehow I still knew something was missing. It wasn't exactly sadness, I suppose the adult me would use the word, "melancholy".
A sort of black and blue bruise to the child within. A real hit. The words, "Here we go. Back to normal." I think that's probably normal for a kid though. You're connected-- your present, living in the moment. You don't have grown-up distractions. For now, I'll just daydream. Remembering what it felt like to get up at ungodly hours in October, the sun charring some other place just east to wherever I was. A cool dampness at the train station. Hopping on and watching the strobe of jade as we rocked along the Metra tracks-- the streetlights filtering through the green windows.
Arriving at Union Station in Chicago, stepping out into the Grand Hall-- breathtaking. So magnificent in fact, you almost forget that you just walked a mile (or what seemed like it), with a metric ton of luggage. Walking into the Business Class lounge and seeing your friends-- your Brothers waiting for you...
Maybe next year when we travel to Grand Lodge Sessions, (I hope we'll be back to normal by then), I'll find the time to slap two more Instamatic picture stickers on the convention center's podium that the Grand Master uses every year. One for this year, and one for the next.
RWB Johnson is a Co-Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.