As a child, my mother used to say. “Time flies once you turn twenty-one.” At the time it was hard for me to believe considering every minute I spent in my classroom felt like an eternity. But as with most things I have experienced in life she was exactly right. With the age of majority far behind me in my rearview mirror, It seems it was every memory of an event that comes through my mind can be now measured in decades instead of just a couple of months like it feels.
One thing I can remember my mother talking about all those years ago has led me on a journey of a lifetime I never expected to be on. As a child, I can remember several of my parent’s friends would visit the house and they would all sit at the table drink coffee and pass the time of the day. One thing I saw is several of them wore rings. Some were just wedding bands which I knew the significance of these, but others wore a gold ring with a funny logo on it.
I asked my mother why they wore those rings and what did they mean. She said “They are Masons. You got to be rich to join that group.” She then said, “Your Great Uncle Don was a thirty-second degree Mason!” The way she explained Don’s rank in the Masons you could tell it meant something to her. The admiration in her voice and the look in her eyes made it clear being a thirty second degree Mason was quite an achievement in her mind. I decided if there was any way I could become a Mason I would do it. If for nothing more than to make my mother proud. As things go, time marches on and life keeps moving on. Years after this conversation in 1991 my mother succumbed to cancer unexpectedly. She never had the opportunity to see me join.
Fast forward eleven years and I was talking with a friend’s father who I knew was a Mason. The talk brought up the promise to my Mom and my unfinished business. I decided I needed to investigate the process further. The internet was still in its infancy in 2002 and after a Yahoo! (Yeah it was Yahoo back then) search I found only one in my lodge had a website. I visited the website and in the photos section of the site, I saw the photograph of two men I had been friends with and coworkers many years before. That sealed it. I had to join that lodge! (Or at least try to).
I’m not sure if it was pure dumb luck or by the design of the Grand Architect of the Universe but two nights later, I was walking into a restaurant and as I was walking in one of the men was walking out! We greeted each other and before He could leave, or I lost the nerve I blurted “I am asking for a petition to become a Mason” (I did know enough that I had to ask to join.) He followed me back in and we exchanged numbers and agreed to get together. Easter Sunday, I visited his house, and over breakfast, I filled out my petition. After what seemed like an eternity, I received word from my friend my petition had been accepted. I was given a date to show up at the downtown Masonic temple in June 2002.
That night in June was an unusually warm night. I was greeted as I walked through the unairconditioned temple and shown into a small windowless room. The heat was unbearable. I wasn’t sure at that point the bead of sweat I felt run down my back was from the temperature of my terror and feat of the unknown which was about to come.
As the Brethren prepared me for the ceremony. It had been a few years since the lodge had had a new candidate so they couldn’t remember the differences in preparing a candidate for the Entered Apprentice degree and one who was being passed to a Fellowcraft. After a few minutes, it was like they flipped a coin. I guess they figured they had a 50-50 chance of getting it right. After the ceremony began as I entered the lodge room and was stopped as I felt a group of hands pulling off my shoe and rearranging the regalia I was wearing. You could hear the muffled swear words as they went about their work.
The rest of the night is pretty much a blur. All I remember is walking around a quiet room, with only the sounds of overhead fans and the occasional sound of a bang that startled me. At some point, I remember my eyes adjusting to the light and someone giving me my glasses. Once it was over a was reconducted to that small hot box of a room and told to wait there until I was summoned. Once I was able to renter the lodge room, I was able to admire the room's beauty. As I was placed in a chair on the West side of the altar and the show that was being performed especially for me was to begin.
I was in awe of the parade of my friends who I now discovered to be Brothers begin to recite things from memory. Watching these Brothers performing the ritual kind of scared me a bit. Self-doubt in my own abilities brought on the fear that I would never have the ability to commit things like this to memory. “I am going to make a terrible Mason”. I thought to myself. (Something a lot of Brethren still would agree with until this very day.)
Once it was all over, I was given a small gray pamphlet having a bunch of symbols. “This is the EA lecture you just saw. Study it. Someday you will be reciting it. The secretary said. The little sarcastic man inside me laughed as I nervously reached out for the book. With that, the lodge went dark, and wouldn’t meet again until September. During that break, I studied that book until I knew both the questions and answers inside and out.
When the cooler breezes of September rolled around my next degree date was scheduled. I came into the lodge, and I was asked to perform the work I learned to another EA for a friend who was coming in. I was asked whether I wanted to “Pitch or catch”. “Catch,” I said with a tremendous amount of apprehension down in the pit of my stomach.
After it was over, I was shocked at how well I did. It wasn’t letter-perfect like I was striving for, but it was pretty close. Everyone cheered and I got a lot of pats on the back that night. My friend leaned over and whispered into my ear. “Now you have gone and done it. Once again your big brain has gotten you into trouble.”
Once I was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason on October 15, 2002. I became very active within the lodge. I had never thought about being a lodge officer but somehow on my first meeting as a Master Mason, I sat in the Junior Stewards chair. I started to protest; I had no clue what to do. “Just stand up when the Senior Steward stands and grab that stick next to you. You will be fine. Thus started my journey to the East several years later.
Some of the best times I have had as an adult was spending time with the Brethren of that lodge in the bar of the Mizpah Shrine Center. We would all sit around telling jokes and laughing over dinner. Eventually, the local Scottish Rite Valley would close their meeting and come in and join us. The entire room was filled with laughter and many nights it was so much fun it was hard to say goodnight. Like the toast in English lodges goes “So happy to meet. So sorry to part.” It's hard to believe so many of those Brethren have laid down their working tools and advance to the Grand Lodge above. Sometimes I feel like they are still with me because the memory of those days still lives in my heart. There isn’t a day I don’t think about them and smile.
One thing that has troubled me through the years is the constant beating of the drum with the mantra “Freemasonry is dying.” On my first visit to my future lodge as a petitioner, I attended a wonderful dinner of Hoosier-style beef and noodles with the lodge celebrating the visit of our sister lodge who made the journey from London Ontario Canada. During that visit, an elderly Past Master who through the years I learned to love came up to me and said “I don’t know why the #$^&^ you are joining Masonry. It is going to be dead in five years.” Needless to say, I was taken aback by this statement. In my mind, I decided if it was really dying, I would ride it out until the end.
Since then, I have seen many people trying to write the Craft’s obituary. Each one of them was dead wrong about their prediction. I have come to believe such declarations are akin to some wacky preacher trying to tell us the world will end in three days. In fact, I believe Masonry is much stronger than it was when I joined.
When I joined there were things many of us said were holding Masonry back, such as lodges only being allowed to meet on the Master Mason degree, lack of Masonic education in lodges, and dues at bargain-basement prices. So many things were holding me back from succeeding. Many of these things were spelled out in a paper written by several of my fellow Knights of the North which became known to the world as “Laudable pursuit”.
Since then, many of these issues have been rectified and we have more men who are joining, and many progressive lodges are thriving. National and international events such as the various Masoniccons have been great successes. Add to that independent Masonic magazines and podcasts get the Brethren thinking and discussing Masonic topics in their own lodges and virtually over the internet. The best part is these are just the tip of the iceberg. Add to these the various Zoom meetings of Brethren have helped strengthen the bonds of Brotherhood when you can’t physically make it to lodge. Sure, we still have a long way to go but I am totally impressed and very pleased with the advancement that has taken in such a short time. In my mind only one thing can slow or stop advancement. That is us.
Sadly, over the years I have seen many good, dedicated Brethren who have quit the Craft in disgust and a feeling of hopelessness because we still completely turned around American Freemasonry. I get it. In the age of microwaved Salisbury steak and green dinners some feel we aren’t achieving our goals fast enough, so they quit. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I see this is our major problem.
Each Brother who throws his hand up in the air and takes his apron and goes home is one less worker in the quarry. One less mentor for a new Brother, one less vote at the grand lodge we could use to make changes. One less Masonic leader who could someday be able to make Masonry better. If you think about how many Brothers, Each set of lost set hands impedes us from furthering the designs we have on our trestle boards and is depriving us of the talents we need to succeed. I encourage you to help bring these men back to the door of the lodge and make them a part of our future success.
It has been a great twenty years. I can’t wait to see how we had grown in the next twenty years. Thank you all for what you do and thank you all for your Brotherhood.