As a Mason, my favorite time of year is Installation season. Every year, and every 2 for some lodges, there is a turnover in Lodge Officers. The officers of a Masonic Lodge are modeled after the ancient Stone Masons guild and have roles ranging from Master to the man that watches the door. The officer line changes as some move in, others move up and in my case, as departing Master of the Lodge I moved out. I’m done and my role is now diminished.
The Installation is a special event for all involved. Families and friends are invited as well as any Masons that want to attend as they witness a ceremony that is not only historic but memorable as well. Especially for the Master. Becoming Master of the Lodge is a special thing. I can only speak for myself when I say that, when I first joined, I didn’t know if I wanted to move to the big chair. But a few years in I committed to it. It can take many years to move through the line and there is a great deal of work involved to prepare. But if you “get it”, as those in the know say, it’s worth it. It is a position of respect to be celebrated. I will always fondly remember mine. As Masons, we are very supportive of each other and an Installation is well attended by well-meaning brothers. I am a well-meaning Brother and I attended many this season. The most recent was Tuesday night.
I visited another lodge in my district to witness my friend Tony be installed as Master. I sat with a great group of Brothers who I consider dear friends. I couldn’t be in better company nor could I be doing anything more enjoyable at that moment in time. Yet I was in a terrible mood. Everything was bothering me at that moment and the environment I was in failed to improve my mood or even distract me for a while. I was in a terrible place. The ceremony was wonderful, perfect in every way in the way of fellowship, camaraderie and the love and respect being given to my friend, yet it couldn’t be over fast enough for me. When it ended, I only wanted to have a drink and eat. In that order. I asked my Brother John to save me a seat in the dining hall. I went outside to get a breath of the cool September air. Before I would re-enter the building I would have to put on my “everything is fine face”.
I am not, nor have I ever been a “man of science”. By that, I mean that I’m not a person that has to have everything quantified and verified. But I am, to a certain degree, a person that needs to see some kind of empirical evidence in order to believe in something. This was a major influence on my failure to embrace religion as a logical pursuit. It wasn’t until I embraced the notion of “faith” would I be a bit more accepting of that which I couldn’t put my fingers on and wrap my mind around. Faith is inherently difficult, hence the reason it is often associated with a “giant leap” of it.
For most of my life my associations with the notion of faith would be in having trust that airplanes wouldn’t fall out of the sky, oncoming traffic wouldn’t cross into my lane and kill me, and those that I love wouldn’t hurt me. These are all tangible things that can and do go wrong. The notion of putting my trust in something that I can neither see nor touch never entered my mind. In addition, I openly rejected the idea of a kindly, benevolent man in a flowing white robe, pulling the strings of mankind from a puffy cloud in the sky whenever I was faced with the unacceptable instances of good people dying young and babies getting cancer.
Three distinct events in my life pushed me incrementally from open detractor to cautiously spiritual. My Kidney Transplant in 2011. The death of my father in 2013. Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry in 2013.
My transplant was an incredibly formidable event in so many aspects. Obviously, it saved my life. I was very sick and on the verge of dialysis. Maybe it’s inaccurate to say I was going to die, it would be more accurate to say that any quality of life was escaping me. Then, a co-worker that I barely knew stepped forward out of nowhere and offered to donate to me. And then finding that she was a perfect match…well, that made me challenge the notions of luck and coincidence.
The death of my father initially reinforced my anger and frustration about bad things happening to good people. But my thinking evolved a little bit when I acknowledged my gratitude that he was no longer in pain. I had (I think, still not entirely sure) some unresolved issues and I talked to his stone a lot. I missed him terribly and suddenly the idea that he may be in a better place, free of pain and waiting for me, his beloved wife, friends, and every dog that ever sat at his feet to join him appealed to me. So I begrudgingly allowed the notion of an afterlife into my zeitgeist. In short, it was a nice idea.
I joined Freemasonry several months before my father passed away. I had always wanted to join it and I finally petitioned a friend for membership. It was a big move for me because I knew that Freemasonry is a faith-based organization. When it came time to interview, I pre-empted the gentleman interviewing me and asked what the parameters for belief are. I was pleased to learn that no statement of denomination or actual designation of a deity other than a higher power/driving force in the universe was required. You simply had to believe that there was something bigger than your own self. It was of short-term comfort because I still hadn’t really gotten even to that point. I was dancing with it, entertaining it even (which was a big step for me in and of itself) but not sure. This was problematic because I am not the type of person who would join a fraternity with the intention of being a better man, father, son, friend, and citizen on a lie. So I told my interviewer my concerns. The problem is that he knew my story and deftly said to me, “You happened to get a job at the one company that would connect you with the person who would one day soon save your life. A perfect match of all things. Since then you have dedicated your life to being a better person and paying forward your gift. Do you honestly think that all of that is a big coincidence or is it possible that all of this happened for a reason?” I really couldn’t argue with that logic. I began to evolve. But I was still spiritual at best. It was a Masonic lesson that moved the needle just a bit more. When discussing the structure of Freemasonry the Lodge itself, while it implies a building, is actually the members, the building is just that. Well, isn’t that what a church is? The building is a building, but the members, followers, parishioners, and believers are the actual body. So according to the tenets of Bill logic (it’s a thing), Church is just a building, religion is a label, and God is everywhere. It may not sound like much, but it was quite an evolution for me, even if I really only evolved to the point of acceptance that I am not an atheist, and the person that I referred to in the first paragraph, the man who wants something tangible to see and touch, opened himself up to the possibility that there was indeed something out there and I was lucky enough to not have to define it.
Here’s what I came up with. It was church, organized religion and all that goes with it that I had a problem with. I wasn’t an Atheist. Atheists are convinced that there is nothing. They are their own church. My problem with Atheism is that I believe it is arrogant to believe that they know that there is nothing out there. This is such a uniquely arrogant human notion. I will never assume to know such a thing. Enter more Bill logic, if you reject the notion of nothing, then you therefore accept that there is something. That, my friends, was enough for me at that point in time.
It is no understatement to say that I have been looking for God everywhere and in every thing ever since. I have looked everywhere except within the walls of a church.
Have you ever encountered a person that needs help, but you have helped them many times before and you just can’t do it anymore? That is a question and a situation that I have been living for days and as simple as the answer is (at least on paper) I just can’t pull the trigger. I should walk away knowing that I have done way more than enough. A whole lot more than anyone I know. But I can’t. I took an obligation to never leave a poor or distressed Brother in need. I’m a Mason.
It started years ago. A former Master of my lodge and a good friend (in fact he is the reason I joined myt beloved fraternity) called me one night late and told me his car had been towed. He needed help. He had no money to get it out of impound. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t have the money. He had a job. Or so I thought. He was pulled over for having an expired sticker. The traffic stop would reveal that he was also driving an unregistered vehicle and with no insurance. Upon further questioning it got worse, I would learn that he was homeless, unemployed and owed a shit ton of back child support. His license was being pulled by the state. I brought it to the attention of a few brothers, and we got together to help him best we could. But nobody knew how bad off he really was, and we were now involved.
I’ll keep this brief. He was so deep in a hole that he dug. Not only had he lost his job, but he also wasn’t looking for another. He couldn’t bring himself to even apply for one. He had zero savings and to make it worse his family had disowned him. It was all way beyond our comprehension how that particular nugget could occur. The obvious question was “how had he been supporting himself” but we later learned that he had taken freeloading to the level of an art form. It was apparent that nobody in his life wanted to support him anymore and that any bridges he had ever crossed were now smoking embers. So, we (and by that I mean me) set our sights on finding some temporary lodging for him.
I found a brother and mutual good friend who had a room to spare. The catch was that he wasn’t in a financial position to feed our brother so I decided that I would give him 300 bucks to cover his food for a month. We agreed and sat down our brother and explained that we were helping him with a place to stay, hoping that with the anxiety of where the next bed was going to being removed he could then focus on getting back on his feet. It didn’t work that way. He sat on his ass and played with his phone for the first 2 weeks. They began to argue. My friend the host told him that any help he was getting was contingent upon him making an effort to improve his situation. To make it more fun they were both calling me complaining about the other. I washed my hands of it. I told my friend the host to do whatever he needed to do, up to and including kicking his ass out, and I told my down and out friend to smarten up and get his shit together. It ended badly. At the end of the month he was thrown out.
I kept up with him and continued to support him as I could. I paid for him to get a state issued ID so that he could work. I gave him some more money. 2 months later he dropped off of the face of the map and I washed my hands of it. The word was that he was living with a member of our lodge (Masonry is a strong bond) taking care of his sick wife in return for lodging. This would go on for 2 years. Last month his new host passed away unexpectedly and his wife, the one being cared for by my lost brother, passed away as well. When I heard, I reached out to him and asked him what his plan was. He didn’t have one. Despite being steadily housed for 2 years he still had no job, money or prospects. And he was rude as hell to me. I was floored. I asked him why he would treat me like that and he ignored me. The urge to tell him to fuck a goat was strong but I took the high road. In a most conflicted way. Despite being outraged and feeling totally disrespected I still wanted to help him. So, I spent two days making calls.
As it turns out he had already been calling around to everyone who would answer. The word was out; take this guy in and he will never leave. Alan Harper of Two and a Half Men would be a lesser leech than my friend. Still, I persisted. I lobbied his new lodge (he quit ours for some reason, probably related to why he was rude to me but I don’t know what it was), for help. More than one person asked why I would do so, given the way he had treated me. Apparently, word had gotten out. I persisted until I knew he was warm and safe, his first day on the streets would be the day the Nor’easter hit last weekend. Long story short, he is housed for now.
I’m kicking myself and I’m not because I know that I’m not a sucker, I’m a Mason and we never turn our back on a brother in need. My obligation and personal compass doesn’t allow for personal animosities. I know I did the right thing and probably will continue to do so. I just have to remind myself why I am doing it.
The right thing is always the course of action to take. His actions reflect on him, not on me. I don’t want a thank you. Every good act I’ve ever done was without expectation of something in return. Believe it or not, it’s easier that way.
In 1981 my Great Uncle Cyrus died. He had a big house on Cape Cod, about 300 yards from the water. My family was tasked with cleaning it out. My Great Uncle was a kind and giving man. On my 16th birthday he gave me his late wife’s 1964 Ford Falcon as a present. I was grateful yet conflicted, I barely knew the man. Amazingly, the distance between us and the Cape was enough to keep me from seeing him more than 5 times in my life. And there I was cleaning out his house, charged alongside my mother, father and Grandparents with deciding what was “junk” and what wasn’t.
There I was, a 16 year old exploring a old house. I meandered to the basement where I found a dusty tool bench with some really cool but unfinished wood working projects and a lot of unorganized stuff scattered around. I stooped to check out the bottom shelf and I saw a bottle. I blew an inch of dust off it and I studied it. It was a bottle of J&B Scotch, a fairly middle of the road blend and a very popular drink in its time. I was intrigued by the label “half gallon” and realized that this bottle was old. The stamp revealed that it was bottled in 1949. “Hey Dad, check this out!”. Dad came over and agreed that it was a find. We brought it home with us and stored it in my grandparents basement.
Saturday I had my installation ceremony as Master of my Masonic Lodge. Due to Covid restrictions we were only allowed to have 50 guests and we reached that number. My children and my mother, several brothers from other lodges that I became friendly with over the years graced me with their presence. One of them had told me 5 years ago that should I become master he wanted to be there. So I invited him. The remainder of the crowd consisted of lodge members and their guests who all came out to support the new line of officers.
It was an AMAZING ceremony, the same one that was conferred on George Washington in the 1700’s. Once complete it was my turn to say some words. I had it all planned out. In fact, I have had it planned out since the day I decided that I would move through the chairs to Master. “Brother Marshall, would you retrieve my conversation piece?” The crowd was intrigued. Brother Marshall is my good friend and past master Basil who promised to help me in any way should I take the big chair. He winked at me and walked to the back of the building and came back with the bottle of J&B. He handed it to me with a wink and sat back in his seat. I hoisted the J&B in the air and told the story. “I am a lover of objects, for their significance and place in history. Objects do not contain memories but they have important associations. For example, I wear my grandfathers watch and cufflinks. I wear my fathers motorcycle helmet. They hold memories for me and mean something. This bottle is not just a bottle, it is a reminder of a different time”. I told the story of cleaning out Uncle Cyrus’s house, who I later found out was an esteemed and beloved Freemason (it explained why he gave me a car) and how the bottle in my hand has fascinated me all along. “This bottle has never been opened, it was bottled in 1949”. The crowd was hanging on every word now. “This bottle was owned by a wonderful man. It was also bottled during the era of Harry Truman, my favorite President. Harry Truman, you may not know, was a Freemason. He served as Grand Master of the state of Missouri as Vice President yet he never discussed it”. I asked the crowd if they knew that in a Masonic lodge everyone is treated the same regardless of social stature. I told of how Harry Truman went to a regular lodge as Vice President and later President and wasn’t greeted with fanfare and adulation…he was simply “brother Harry”. “This bottle represents a simpler time and I hope to run this lodge as Harry did his own, with humility and honesty”. It was a hit, everyone applauded. After, I rounded up all of the shot glasses I could find and I opened it. We toasted and took a drink. After 70 years in several basements, I finally shared my find with those people closest to me. A week and a half later, people are still talking about it. They agreed with me that it wasn’t just a bottle.
It is not only a new year but also a entirely new decade. As I mark the halfway point of my 5th decade on this glorious spinning ball we call earth I have to say that the last ten years have easily been my most tumultuous and unpredictable to date. It is said that it is better to forget the incident and focus on the lesson. I need to do just that. If I was to take anything away from the last ten years, it is that I have learned a lot of lessons.
In 2010 it was determined that I would need a Kidney Transplant. Without it, dialysis would be my only option. One that I absolutely hated. The lesson was that, despite my remarkable skills of denial and putting on a brave face, it was time to take my health seriously.
2010 also saw the culmination of multiple bad financial decisions and living beyond my means in the foreclosure on my house and a bankruptcy. Despite finally landing a great job in 2008 it was too late to stop the inevitable and my family dragged ourselves to our new home, a small 3 bedroom apt where the rent was as much as our previous mortgage and we were actually tripping over each other. The lessons were many. I learned to curb my spending. I learned to downsize. And as we banged around in close quarters I learned that the smaller the space, the closer the family and as a family we achieved some much needed closeness.
In 2011 a co-worker and friend offered to give me a kidney. Her selfless offer caused a chain reaction at my company culminating in a fundraiser for my medical expenses. I felt like the luckiest man alive and I was blessed with a huge support system. I received my transplant in December. I was grateful and empowered. The lessons were many. I learned that a blessing can come from any source and to be open to it and be grateful. I learned that people are good and plentiful. I also learned that there is a catch to everything. My GM, who coordinated the fundraiser for me was going to play that card to manipulate and attempt to compromise me for years to come.
In 2013 I lost my father to Parkinson’s. It hit me hard to say the least. I still wonder if he died knowing how much I appreciated and loved him. The lesson, and there are many, was to tell the people in my life how I feel about them. I have committed to always leave people as if I am never going to see them again. Regrets are not part of my current game plan.
2013 also was the year I joined the wonderful fraternity of Freemasonry. I found a passion to pay forward my recent gift of a Kidney Transplant and Freemasonry allowed me access to great men who do great deeds. My commitment to be a better man each day than I was before has forever changed my life. The lessons are many. Selflessness, charity without expectation of recognition, love of community and the confirmation that there are a lot of good people in the world, you just have to know where to look.
Professionally, it was a wonderful decade. In 2008 I had fallen into the job that would not only introduce me to a lifesaving donor, but I found my niche in my career. The company groomed me for a couple of years and then gave me a department to build and I can say, without hubris that I knocked it out of the park. My background and personality served me well in our business model and I became a crucial “go-to” team player valued by our customer base and a frequent resource and problem-solver. Every day was challenging and different and I found myself in a position to help people. The lessons were many, chief among them was to listen to those around you and help them whenever possible. Also, be the worker and coworker that when you take a sick day, people miss you.
I would say that 2016 was the worst year of the decade. It began when my kidney failed suddenly in February. I was floored. Upon receiving my transplant I was a new man. I began my recovery immediately and I committed myself to keeping the kidney for at least the 15 years I was told it would last. I worked out hard. I did P90X, I biked and hiked. I took care of myself and dropped weight. When it suddenly failed after only five years, I was angry like never before. Where were my 15 years? Why did I have to find out on my own that my disease was the only kidney disease to return and infect the new organ? I would later deduce the lesson. You never know what the future holds so get out there and live now. If the Dr.’s had told me that I may lose it in 5 years would I have achieved all that I had? No, if I had sat around waiting for the shoe to drop I would never have climbed those mountains and savored the view.
In 2017 the bottom really fell out. My company closed, taking my dream job with it. My health deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t keep another job. When the job was gone so was the money and that was when my marriage officially collapsed. It was inevitable, we had been strangers for years but it hurt nonetheless. I suppose you know the rest. I moved in with my mother. I applied for Social Security Disability. I was denied. I went on dialysis and I am to this day. That’s the bad.
But here’s the good. I started this blog and if you are reading right now then I made a good decision. I also focused on creating and maintaining solid relationships with my children. Today, we are strong and their love sustains me. I also committed to getting along with my ex. I have not to this day experienced the closure, the explanation for the rejection many years ago and the giant wall that formed between us but I remained friendly with her for the children, for us and for the sake of tranquility. I would like to think that I am setting a good example for the kids on how to be an adult.
2019 served as a year of tying things together and trying to formulate a plan going forward. It was a year of many setbacks and achievements. After nearly dying in September 2018 I emerged from a medically induced coma with a “bucket list” mentality. I focused more on what I could do and less on what I couldn’t and in the process found that I could do a lot of things my detractors said I couldn’t. One of them was buying a motorcycle. Everyone said no, as had my wife and family for many years. But it was in my blood and as an homage to my father I was on two wheels again. The freedom and love of the open road has changed my life and, second to my children, is a thing that keeps me going on those dark sleepless nights when the pain is so bad that I consider the darkest of thoughts…ending it.
My greatest achievements of the 2019 was the transformation of my entire attitude. I like who I am. Finally.
It is true that a man has to hit rock bottom, with nowhere to look and go but up, before he truly discovers what is truly important. Brutal self-examination led to self-improvement. Physical challenges awakened the fighter in me. Having nothing to lose empowered me to rise from the ashes and shine my light instead of lurking in the shadows. It was then the lessons became clear.
For every high there is a low. People do not suck. Life is to be lived not viewed out a window from a recliner. The words “no” and “can’t” are to be treated as a personal challenge. Sometimes we all need help and that’s when we discover who our friends are. Pain is temporary while regret is forever. Be charitable to a flaw with your time if not your wallet. Only look down on a man if you are helping him up. Be nice. If you can’t do that then be quiet. Don’t ever let someone tell you what you can’t do. Make every day count as if it were your last.
In closing, I hope to be around long enough to do another one of these ten years from now.
One of the many things I enjoy about working again is that I was able to find something in my field of expertise. That is to say, anything involving the sale of something with wheels and a guy who sells it. I have done it all in the world of wheels from oil changes to repossessions and I love it all. When I began to help out my friend at his Powersports Finance company he soon found that there wasn’t a job in the building I couldn’t do (except accounting). Because I was to be part-time, he started me on some time-consuming projects that were taking too much time from his already overworked full-time crew. These tasks could be as simple as minor dealer issues, customer service calls or as complex as sorting out issues with local and state agencies. After cleaning up some small crises in my first week, he promoted me to a really fun one. I was to have a Motorcycle inspected and have a new Vehicle Identification Number assigned to it.
Having a new VIN# on a vehicle is a major ordeal. The entire history and pedigree of a vehicle are tracked by it. The state requires serious documentation from the owner in order to sign off on this task. As the lienholder, because we repossessed it, it is even harder. So I took my time to learn the exact process, what forms I needed to prove ownership, and what documentation I needed on hand to prove ownership. Over the course of the first week, I was able to gather all paperwork, pay all fees and gather all receipts and call for the appointment. Once the appointment was made at a local inspection station I would begin the process of coordinating how to get the motorcycle to them.
Between the initial attempt at making the appointment and actually completing it would take 2 weeks. It was a giant series of telephone tag and miscommunications (on the State Police’s part)until I was finally able to set the appointment for 10 AM Friday morning. time.
When Mike and I pulled in (Mike was helping me with the bike because it was very heavy) the trooper told us to park the trailer, unload the motorcycle and he would be right back. He then proceeded to get in his cruiser and drove off, after all of the efforts we had made to get there on time. He came back 15 minutes later with a cup of coffee. Mike was visibly pissed, I was containing myself for now.
Trooper Burns was a large, fit man with a grey buzzcut and a blank expression on his face. He began to ask me a series of questions that I had already answered, some of which weren’t even relevant. I kept my composure and explained my case again. Trooper Burns seemed to delight in being difficult but I stayed on point. At one point he told me to start the bike to prove that it runs, I told him there’s no need, it’s not a salvage inspection it’s a reassignment. He knew I had him and moved on. 15 more minutes of explaining our situation, how we came into possession and what we needed to be done he finally agreed to go online and do his due diligence. 30 minutes later he came out and said “This is the wrong bike”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“This is the wrong bike,” he said again.
I took a deep breath and patiently replied: “I heard that, please explain it to me”.Mike was facepalming in the background.
“This engine number is off of a bike recorded stolen in Florida. Can’t let you leave with it”. Now, this was not a completely unexpected turn of events but not ideal. We talked for a while about our options, what he was going to do next and when to contact him again. I went to shake his hand and he caught a glimpse of my Masonic ring. “I didn’t see that before…Good men the Masons. My brother and father both are members. I wish I saw that earlier I wouldn’t have given you such a hard time.”
I paused, took a deep breath, and said,”Trooper Burns. As a Mason, I wouldn’t have needed to glimpse a ring in order to treat you decently. As a Mason, I would have been decent right out of the gate. This could really have been a whole lot easier”. I studied his face for a reaction, I think he understood me. “Show me the secret handshake,” he said as he smiled for the first time since we had met.
As Mike and I drove out of the lot, empty trailer and all he said “Brass Balls, man. You’ve got Brass Balls.”
“No, he knew I was right. He has a tough job and deals with a lot of assholes. What he didn’t recognize is that I’m not one of them. Now he knows.”