It was a chilly Saturday afternoon as I walked into my local grocery store. These days I don’t normally bother to venture into a store to shop for the week’s necessities anymore. I open an app on my smartphone and have the goods delivered to me! What a time to live!
But in this situation, there were things I needed that the store that Sam built won’t bring to my door, so we parked the car in the lot, and I walked what felt like the green mile to the door of the belly of the beast.
As I approached the door a sweet little old lady approached me with a slip of paper in her hand. She said “Sir, we are asking people to purchase a few extra items to donate to our local food bank. We have a table set up right over there to receive the donations.” As she pointed to the exit door. I took the paper and placed it into my pocket and gave a half-hearted “Ok”.
As I walked down the aisles of the market I began to think about that slip of paper. I thought. It’s the holiday season. Why not.” And I pulled the paper from my pocket. Reading the paper, it asked for the typical items most food banks request. Dry beans and pasta, canned vegetables, and proteins. Things needy families need to make it from day-to-day.
As I began to look through the store for the food pantry the requested items, I noticed how high the prices for these items were from when I had to support a family and how we barely made it back them. I shuddered to think of how hard it must be now. My mind went back to a time when for several months all we ate was off-brand boxed macaroni and cheese. You could get four boxes for one dollar and a pack of store-brand margarine for thirty-nine cents. Now one box of the same stuff costs nearly a dollar!
All of this made my mind drift back to another time when I was standing before a man, and I didn’t have a penny to my name. Or anything made of metal for that matter! The man told me to remember that feeling and to help any Masonic Brother I discovered to be in that same position. I don’t discuss it much, but I have done my best to fulfill that obligation over the years and I must say I have been on the other side of that stick.
One year I remember, many years back, just about Thanksgiving the house we were living in was condemned by the city. The house was ready to fall down. There was no heat. A pipe in the basement had burst and our water had been shut off because I couldn’t afford to pay the over five hundred dollar water bill to the city because of the water that made that basement look like a swimming pool. The “Landlord” who was nothing but a slum lord praying on poor people living in desperate conditions refused to pay for any repairs. We were stuck. I was driving to work in a car I had borrowed from a neighbor because mine had been repossessed. I did not see any way out. So, we made do.
When the eviction came my lodge got together and they all found us all a warm place to sleep. We stayed with a Brother and his family until we could find something, and I continued to work as hard as I could. The Brethren and their families helped us get a four-bedroom townhouse in a local apartment complex. With their help and with what little money I could find we got moved in. It wasn’t fancy but it was so much better than the horrid conditions we had been existing in. We had a good place to live, food, and free of insects. I only had one hard thing left to do. This one I was afraid would be the hardest of all because it was going to change my stepdaughter's lives forever.
With all the expenses of moving, utilities, and such, plus buying food and such this left me no money for Christmas. The girls were still young enough to believe in Santa and I hated to do it, but I was going to have to let them in on the secret that all of the adults know about because I couldn’t afford presents, and Christmas dinner was probably going to be Ramen noodles. Out of everything that had happened I never felt lower than I did at that moment. I was hoping I could come up with some magic words that would ease the sting and let them down easily.
That Saturday afternoon I was still procrastinating on telling them. Still looking for the right phrasing. I had given up on miracles long before then. I was just looking for words that would just keep the news from destroying their entire childhood. About four in the afternoon there was a knock on the back door of the apartment. I looked through the peephole of the door because considering the neighborhood’s crime rate you didn’t just open it for anyone. When I looked through, I saw several of my lodge’s members. I let them in and to my surprise, it seemed like the whole lodge walked into the kitchen carrying cardboard boxes with wrapped gifts and food and all kinds of things to celebrate the upcoming holiday.
The entire house erupted into whoops and hollers and joyful noise. As everyone put the presents away the girls swore to wait until Christmas morning to open the gifts and all the food was being stored away one of the brothers looked and me and smiled. I must have had quite a bewildered look on my face. I can’t remember his exact words. “I think I was too stunned, But I believed it was something like “We knew with everything that just happened you wouldn’t have a way to celebrate the holiday and we didn’t want to see the girls miss out on Christmas morning so we thought we will do a little something for you guys.”
After we all talked for a while, they all went home and that year we did have a holiday. The girls loved their clothes and toys/. We feasted on a beautiful ham dinner with all the trimmings. It was a wonderful holiday thanks to those men who had also stood there at one time in a poor and penniless condition.
I have been very fortunate in the last years. It has been a long time since I have been cold, hungry, worried about how I was going to pay a bill or whether we can make rent another month. This experience brought the memories and those feelings back and reminded me of the blessings the Grand Architect of the Universe has supported me in the last few years. I am also reminded how in one small stroke how all these blessings can be gone. With tears in my eyes, I went through the store and bought as many of these items on this list as I could without discomfort to myself.
Brethren, I know some grow weary of my harping Masonic relief and my belief we tend to allow our members needs to be overshadowed while we spend all our time and treasure on charity for the profane community, which most of the time, in my opinion, can sometimes be seen as just a way to get the lodge’s name in the paper for recruiting. But you see, it is experiences like this I have met and sadly lived through that have made me such a champion for it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying to help those in dire need. Help as many people as you can but, remember “Charity begins at home”. Please help your fallen Brethren their wives, widows, and orphans first.
This may sound crazy, but I believe this, don’t do your charity for recognition. As it says in my Volume in Sacred Law:
So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward.
I understand you would like more members for your lodge. But stop and think: What type of lodge would you want to join and be a part of? A lodge of good men that loves each other who you know has your back and you are all there for each other and each other families no matter what or a group of men who are there to smile for a camera for a few minutes who will give his time halfheartedly once his photo is in the paper and after a while you will never see again? If the lodge cares for each other the numbers will take care of themselves. I think the answer is obvious.
I guess what I am trying to say is you as an individual and a lodge as a group strives to live and fulfill the obligation, they said they would while on their knees on that one night so many years ago everything else falls into place. We will have a stronger, happier Fraternity with an engaged Brotherhood helping each other out, making lifetime friendships. I also believe many of the issues we have today including member retention will be a thing of the past. “recruiting” wouldn’t be an issue. The friends of our Brethren will see the difference in them and they will be curious.
Once we have laid a stronger foundation for ourselves THEN we can help the outside world and we can truly make a difference in the lives of others. The best part of it will be we won’t have to shout our good deds from the roof tops. Others will be doing it for us.