by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce
Now that we have returned to Lodge for a new year, I'm sure we have all shared this experience: it's awkward. That's quite a statement in a year that has been difficult and inconvenient. From watching games with cardboard cutouts of fans and crowd noise played over the speakers, to virtual meetings for everything, this year has been socially distanced. It appears that we have collectively written off 2020. I don't want to suggest this is a throwaway year; that would be an insult to the memories of those we have lost during the pandemic. But you can feel it. Even those with strong will are coping with some form of stress or anxiety over the uncertainty ahead.
Instead of a throwaway, a year meant to be discarded, 2020 is shaping up to be more of a year that deserves an asterisk. We had goals. We had plans, events, and moments that were canceled, delayed, or forfeited. Yet, when we look back on the year 2020, time did pass every day, and history was recorded. To be fair, if there is something worthy of an asterisk, it would be 2020. That mark would be an appropriate symbol for anyone who felt like something was taken from them this year. We could offer it as a consolation for those ready to write off the remaining three months remaining on the calendar.
The one thing I was looking forward to this fall was going back to Lodge. For those who haven't been allowed to meet since March, this meeting had a homecoming feel. Freemasonry is the one institution the provides many levels of support in our daily lives. We seek that sense of normalcy and familiarity that comes when gathering with our Brothers. That evening under new health guidelines, now part of our everyday life, my Lodge came together to elect and install our new officers for the ensuing year. We watched our Master be re-installed for an additional second year, an unexpected break from recent tradition. I thought of the asterisk that would be applied to so many Worshipful Brothers this season; either their year in the East was extended or their term shortened due to the pandemic.
The discussion during the business of the evening was to determine an amended Trestleboard. We would be moving from two regularly scheduled meetings a month in our building to one for the remainder of 2020. Our first meeting of the month would be tiled, in Lodge. Our Master suggested that the second meeting be reserved for gathering socially for dinner at a restaurant that could accommodate our group. Time being a great thickener of things, the hope is that we can assess and make changes accordingly in the new year. I could almost see the asterisk appearing as I updated the meeting dates on my iPhone's calendar.
Freemasonry was going to be different this year, for sure.
But I wasn't going to let this be a throwaway year.
I shared this thought with a colleague during our daily lunch break walk. Not the Lodge meeting experience, but the business concept of a "write-off" applied to 2020. We discussed pandemic fatigue, a persistent low-grade form of depression attached to the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared a new trend, "doomscrolling," which is constantly checking your phone for the latest bad news on social media. No surprise, this habit has significantly increased in recent weeks. Then she laughed and said, "this is something you should ask a therapist." So, I did.
Bro. Erik Marks, a Midnight Freemason contributor, is a clinical social worker. He's also a friend who is now used to getting my unsolicited phone calls that often become the fodder for late-night talks. As I recapped what I have shared with you, Dear Reader, I included a point that Bro. Marks made during his appearance on the https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/meetactpart/episodes/2020-05-02T15_06_04-07_00. In May, he was a guest on an episode discussing mental health and Freemasonry. At that time, Bro. Marks outlined how some of the things we have learned during the shutdown could be beneficial when Lodges reopened. "It's actually effective to meet once a month online," he suggested. He recounted a virtual gathering he attended where he reunited with three Brothers online who had moved out of state. These Brothers were able to connect thanks to technology. "To me, that was incredibly valuable because it wasn't Lodge; it wasn't ritual... In an odd way, I was grateful."
Fast forward five months to our after-hours phone call at the end of September, and Bro. Marks still held the same feelings. Yes, this is going to be a different year. But to those Master Masons recently raised, it is on the rest of us to continue our time-honored traditions and create value in their experience. A newly made Mason should not know the difference in their Entered Apprentice degree conferred under COVID guidelines; the ritual must be the focus. Perhaps focusing on personal development, an internal assessment of our own improvement is most needed during this time of social distancing. For Brothers who have moved into leadership roles, now is the time we can work with new line officers on the details of their chair. Yes, this year is one that can be productive, investing in making good men better.
As our conversation progressed through the evening, I connected a Masonic lesson to the times. There is a line of ritual that http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2019/02/having-been-tried-never-denied.html. I have previously explored on the Midnight Freemasons blog,We don't have to know how to navigate through each situation or lesson - we must trust "someone who has." Having been tried, never denied, and ready to be tried again prepares one for the lifetime of learning as a Freemason. I've often searched for a practical application of the deeper meaning of being tried. There is no doubt an example was produced when our life suddenly changed in mid-March. Although the universe has presented this pandemic to all of us, a singular event has generated multiple experiences and outcomes. We are being tried. And honestly, it's a daily occurrence. As my teenagers say, "the struggle is real," because it is. Every day brings a new change that probes the boundaries of our acceptance and understanding. This can be personal, professional, or something larger than ourselves --- a movement, world event, or natural disaster. There is no asterisk next to 2020, rather an ever-present test, one that will not be simply dismissed on January 1, 2021.
Our task as Freemasons must be to remain upright men. To continue to employ the Working Tools in our everyday interactions. Most importantly, we must accept and embrace that we are being tried by internal and external forces. Instead of discouraging a Mason, these trials breed confidence deeper than any challenge dares to cross. We have the familiarity of never being denied. And, the perseverance to be tried again.
Brother Michael Arce is a member of Mt. Vernon Lodge #3 in Albany, 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