Doing my part

We are not a secret society. We are not affiliated with the Illuminati. We are not the Knights Templar. We can barely handle a take out order. But we are a fraternity that values faith, hope, and above all Charity. We vow to support one another in our lives and endeavors in an unparalleled commitment to each other. We are Freemasons, the oldest Fraternal Organization in the world.

My great uncle Cyrus was an esteemed Freemason. I rarely saw him when I was younger because he lived a good distance away. But I knew of his extreme generosity. I learned the full extent of this when I attended the reading of his Last Will and Testament. As the attorney read a laundry list of 5000 dollar donations to a series of hospitals, burn units, food pantries and schools I learned that those were his Masonic charities. It intrigued me how a man of meager means could be so generous. So I looked into Freemasonry. I concluded that someday I would pursue it.

It wasn’t until I was in my late forties that I acted on my desire to join.
My kids were older, my marriage wasn’t worth staying home for and perhaps most important, I had just received a life-saving kidney transplant from a co-worker and I wanted to pay it forward. I joined a lodge in my hometown in MA. I chose it because it was close to my current town and I knew many of the members.

It was a small but bustling group of guys and I immediately fit in. The only thing I had to do was reconcile my faith. Freemasonry demands that a man believes in a higher power. No denomination or names required, just no atheists. I came to the conclusion that no man can be arrogant enough to be absolutely sure that there is nothing up/out there and that was enough. Soon after I kneeled at the consecrated altar and took an obligation to simply be a better man.

I jumped in and was thrilled to endeavor in wholesome, charitable and community-oriented activities with some very good men. I got involved with the few skills I had. I cooked at all functions, I organized events and I called guys that hadn’t been in a while and personally asked them to come back. I joined the line of Officers and tried to be a leader as well. I became a popular, well-respected member. I made wonderful friendships that I never would have made had I not sought out this fraternity. It has changed my life in so many ways. It was where I belonged.

Unfortunately, I was a bit of a Pollyanna in one respect. I thought that ALL Freemasons were man of impeccable character. I soon learned how wrong I was. Most, a good 85% are indeed great men. But some are Masons for the wrong reasons, seeking social stature or just enjoy titles. My biggest disappointment was that politics exist within our walls as well because we are, after all, just mortal men.

Mortal men are capable of gossip, they lose interest, make promises they fail to keep, struggle with personality differences, grapple with resentment and grudges, and can be petty and unrelenting. It goes against everything we strive for but it happens, even in a room that is dedicated to be different than the world outside its walls. This has happened in my own lodge.

But in recent years, membership has fallen way off, attendance is down and we are in trouble.

I missed almost all of last year due to my move (I’m 100 miles away from the lodge now). I went a few times but I had to drop out of the officer line due to my health and distance and created a gap for them to fill. They couldn’t. The failure of others to step up and fill mine, and other vacancies in addition to failure to collect dues put our Lodge in Receivership. In essence, Grand Lodge has us on probation and we either get it together or we sell our building, lose our charter and merge with another lodge.

The brothers charged with handling our rebuilding/probation asked me if I would re-join the officer line. They felt that my presence would help to galvanize the membership. But it would not come without sacrifice. It would require me to drive to MA once a month for 10 months of the year. 200 miles round trip and I would have to find a place to sleep. Reluctantly, I agreed.

I decided that if my lodge needs me I will do my part. I will find a way to make a weekend out of it. My dialysis schedule actually permits it. I have it on Saturday and then have 2 days off. I can go down Sunday and see two of my kids on the way down. I can then stay at my buddy Jeff’s house Sunday night and see my other two kids on Monday. The meeting is Monday night and I can drive up after. It’s a commitment on my part but I’m willing to ake it because Freemasonry, and my lodge, means that much to me. Also, it does give me something to look forward to and plan for. That is something we Chronically Ill need to keep going.

Last night I was installed Senior Warden of my lodge. My next step is Master. At which time I will assume leadership of my beloved lodge. My first priority will be that my members always remember that they made a commitment to God, their brothers and themselves that they would strive to be better men. While this implicitly implies that they should work towards being better than their former selves, I also hope to inspire them to step up, to be accountable, to get involved and to not wait for others to do it.

That’s what the people outside our walls do, and we as Freemasons need to do better. I’m doing my part, some think I’m doing more than my part. Again, it means that much to me.

The kindness of strangers

I wrote a post many, many months ago challenging those who say the lovely, always productive phrase “people suck.” You can find it Here.

I’ve always hated that expression. I believe, I want to and have to, that most people strive to be the best person they can be. I also believe that the best way to reveal character is not in the year of your car, the size of your watch, how much you have in the bank or how many Instagram followers you have but instead by your deeds towards others.

I’m less interested in whether you have stood with the great. I want to know if you’ve sat with the broken.

I received a call from a Masonic Brother last week. He was checking in to see how I was feeling. I told him the truth. Virtually sofa-ridden, fatigued and in need of dialysis. He appreciated the update. We talked for a while and he then excused himself because he had something to do. I put down the phone, put my head back and settled in for the ninth nap of the day (I may be exaggerating a bit). Several minutes later my phone starting blowing up with FB notifications. I took a look.

He had excused himself to compose FB posts on every MA FB page related to Masonry regarding my condition and my need for another donor. It was overwhelming.

The messages began to pour in. Due to my brother’s gesture I have six, yes six people who have asked to be tested in order to donate a kidney to me. 4 of them I have never met or even heard their name before.
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I am humbled, excited, honored and blessed by this outpouring of support. It has given me something that I have not experienced, nor expected to, for over a year. What is that you ask?

Hope, I now have hope.

If I ever have the privilege of speaking to any of you, please don’t ever tell me that people suck. I’m not the guy who will buy into that mentality. The good ones are out there, maybe you have to look a little harder. Just remember…

If you can’t find one, become one.

Let’s talk about mortality

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.
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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.