I have about three months left in the East, so I have been wearing gloves to meetings for most of the last 7 years or so. I keep them in the console of my car because they are easy to forget when heading out to a meeting. I have found that I typically get about a year out of one pair and then I toss them because they are too dirty to keep. I also like the connection between new gloves and a new job.
When we returned to labor after the summer, I looked at my gloves for this year. They are dirtier than I expected, dirtier than usual for a whole year in other offices. I’m happy about this.
I know that the black stains on the fingertips are a combination of sweat and ink. I run warm anyway, and in my lodge, the East is in the west, so the setting sun heats up that end of the lodge. The thermostats are on the Western wall. Combine all of that with a tux and a top hat and the extra lights and the exertion of meeting, and I’m dripping before I get the lodge open. My gloves help with the sweat and that helps to move pages around so it all works out.
There are other stains on my gloves that make no sense to me, that I can’t identify at all. I’m good with this, too. I came by those marks honestly, whatever they are.
I’m a big fan of this quote from Brother Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”I like where Maxwell was going with his interpretation of the symbolism of our white gloves. It’s not enough to simply talk a good game or intend good things. Part of the good and hard work of Freemasonry is converting those words and intentions into clear and meaningful action.
At the same time, though, I don’t want clean hands or clean gloves. I want the dirt and cuts and callouses that result from work. I want my actions to be good but I don’t want to be pure because I work in a world that isn’t, and I want to be useful in that world.
I like the ideals and I like the reality and I like this uncomfortable, challenging place between them. I’m looking at these dirty gloves from my time in the East and starting to think that I will keep them, that they may become my favorite reminders of this year.
Worshipful Brendan Hickey is the Worshipful Master of Thomson Lodge No. 340 in Paoli, PA.
Maxwell, S. F. (1985). The Exemplar: A guide to a Mason’s actions. Philadelphia, PA: The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania.