I woke this morning in the mood for a bit of spiritual refreshment. Yesterday, I spent most of the drive back from MA listening to Christian-Stoner music, an interesting genre, and I went to bed a little emotional. I decided to go to Church.
The day started off with Mom telling me in the car that I need to sing along with the hymns and read along with the “Responsive Readings.” Oy, I thought to myself, If she only knew how many times I had gone to church just to make her happy and she won’t stop pushing me. This is why I don’t often go. I had to remind her of my stance on the church. I hate the songs and I hate the responsive readings but I enjoy the sermon and the calming presence of many people in one room exhaling pure positivity into the otherwise tainted air. I stand but don’t sing or recite, and during prayers, I choose to have a moment of silence and contemplate an issue that is plaguing my heart. It’s still a positive experience. I’m just not into traditional religion. I call it the Kayak theory. It goes as follows: Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking, Spirituality is sitting in a Kayak thinking about God. She doesn’t get it.
The Unitarian Church in town in a nice place to be, for 186 years it has accommodated many faiths and served as a wonderful nucleus of the community. As can be expected, everyone knows everyone. What is not expected is the extraordinary generosity of spirit and resources for such a poor NH town. So even though I don’t necessarily enjoy church, I get to see the people in town that I have grown fond of. They pray for me, are always asking about me so I show up once in a while.
We were early. While the early arrivers mingled I picked out a nice inconspicuous place to sit. I often get judgmental looks when I don’t sing or read along so I choose my seat carefully. Mom and Dave can sit together as a couple, I’ll just hide over here. As I waited for things to start I scanned the room for my buddy John. He was a regular and I fully expected and hoped to see him. He is one of my few friends up here. Despite the fact that he is 86 years old.
I felt a surprise tap on my shoulder, I turned and it was John. He had sat down behind me. He looked terrible. Gaunt was the first word that came to mind. Worse than the last time I saw him. We made small talk, I asked him rhetorically how he was feeling and before we knew it the service was starting. He leaned in and said, “I have to talk to you after.” I nodded him an assurance and we settled in. I had a bad feeling.
The service began with a prayer. I said one of my trademark Billy Mac prayers. Something along the lines of:
Dear higher power, whatever or whoever you are. Give me the strength to deal with ignorance and the patience to not strangle the idiots in my life. While you’re at it, let me know why I’m here and what you want from me. Please take care of the good people and back the Karma bus over the jagoffs. And if it’s not too much would you mind getting that little cutie in the next row to notice me, yeah the one wearing what appears to be a very poor choice of undergarment to church (thank you for that btw). Oh yeah, no one ever asks you how you are…hope you’re doing great. Peace brother…
After several agonizing hymns and a lot of sitting and standing, I sat through a very enjoyable sermon. It put me into the state of mind that I came in hoping to achieve. Before I knew it we were heading to the back room for some badly needed coffee. I found John sitting in a chair near the door, I marveled at how fast he got there. I grabbed a hot cup and sat down next to him. I asked him what he wanted to talk about.
“My funeral”, he said matter-of-factly. I was taken back a bit and it probably showed on my face.
“You mean the one that’s hopefully many years from now?” I inquired despite knowing that it wasn’t the case.
“Billy, I’m on the way out. I know it. I’m not wasting valuable time. I’m planning my funeral and I want you to promise that you’ll be there as a brother.” You see, John and I are fellow Freemasons, we refer to each other in our fraternity as “Brothers”. It is a bond that runs strong and deep.
He then began to list the other arrangements he was working on. He calmly recited the list, as one would a list of what was needed at the market. A full Military funeral was in the works. There would be a Navy contingency and a Marine contingency because he served in both. As he continued to list the details it became achingly apparent to me the life this man has lived. He knows what he has done in his life, and despite his humble nature, he wants it to be recognized. He has been guaranteed participation by all involved except by the Masons. And that’s where I come in. To relieve his anxiety over not receiving the service most valuable to him, the Masonic Funeral.
I assured him that I would make it happen. He patted me on the leg and said “I’ve known you for a year and from day one I knew you were a man of integrity. I know you won’t let me down.”
I was at a loss for words but I managed to say,“no more Billy Nason’s.”
He nodded in agreement, I had hit the nail on the head. Billy Nason was a police officer from my hometown that moved up here to retire. He was a good friend of my Father’s. He was a Mason for 62 years. Despite the fact that he was ill for a long time and his death was expected, the local chapter of Masons failed to galvanize enough support to give him a proper Masonic sendoff. I, and a few local brothers were seriously pissed off. A true Mason knows that there is nothing more important to a Mason than our ancient ceremony to send a brother to the Celestial Lodge above. I’m not sure anyone feels stronger than I about it and John knows it.
Freemasonry operates in obscurity. For hundreds of years, men of good character have gathered in privacy and operated with anonymity. It is the most charitable organization in the world. We don’t talk about it or advertise it, we just do it. For the wives and families of a Mason, it is not uncommon for them to not know what it is that the Mason in their home actually does when he is away from home. Yet they faithfully supported the brother in his endeavors. The Masonic funeral is the one service performed publicly, for the benefit of the family, to show them a bit of what he was involved in and how much his labors were valued. I have participated in at least a dozen, many times for a brother that I never met. I didn’t have to know him, I knew what type of man he was. Every time, the family was absolutely grateful for us doing it. It’s an enormous show of respect for a good man. Yet, some Masons fail to see the importance and the turnout can be small. It’s a sad display when a fraternity of millions worldwide draws 3 or 4 guys because they simply don’t get it.
Not me, I get it. My new but dear friend has entrusted me with ensuring a very important part in the send-off of a wonderful man. I won’t let him down.
It was a morbid yet transcendent moment. It was disconcerting to have a dying man, one that you respect deeply, talk about his own mortality but I was deeply honored that he tasked me with such an important role.
It was an eye-opener for sure. I went to church on a whim, feeling somewhat aimless. I left with a direction and a purpose. That’s what I went in for. Mission accomplished I suppose.