A million years ago, at some point in my early Masonic career, I was placed on a committee that was responsible for interviewing a potential Freemason. I had really only my own experience as a neophyte to draw upon in how I should approach this situation. A paper with questions was handed to me and I was told to setup a time to talk with this candidate. I set up a meeting, albeit not the most optimal as it was in a crowded place, and proceeded with what I thought was a thorough interview, given my own experience as a aspirant to the Craft.
She was a pleasant person, about twenty years older than I, with a lot of life experience. In fact, she had so much “life experience” that this interview was extremely long. Several points hit me throughout the interview but the most striking was that she “wanted to become a 32nd Degree in the minimal amount of time.” It was her goal, and given her circumstances, she felt she really needed a worthwhile goal to enhance her life. I diligently filled in my answers with some trepidation in my heart for her goal. How does one ‘achieve’ degrees, I thought? I had spoken to a fellow Bro. about this, and it was considered an affectation of someone who really wasn’t familiar with Masonry. It would pass.
I find this “affectation” is something that some Bro. continue to have long after they have become Freemasons. I still ask myself that question, how does one ‘achieve’ a degree? For me, the system has always been something I could take at my own time, based on my own personal view of progress, and listening to what mattered to me. I have felt, perhaps at times, that if I said “no,” I might be “bypassed” or overlooked until a later time. But, isn’t that the point? There is no “bypassing” in Freemasonry. This is my path with my own background and challenges; my own trials and approbations. This is my journey. That there are others with me on a similar journey is reassuring but by no means an impediment, challenge, or problem for my own. In fact, I would say that without those people, I would have no “journey.” The rocks in the tumbler do not get smooth by tumbling against themselves.
I have seen people who obtain certain degrees change their demeanor and bearing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. In the positive cases, I feel like they are flowing into themselves – as if their nature were waiting for them to realize they were that powerful or intelligent or deserving. Some people walk taller, dedicate themselves to learning more, or become more thoughtful and introspective. Others somehow let entitlement get the better of them, causing them to seek out challenges to their person, criticize themselves more, or worry that someone will ‘get ahead of them.’ To where, is my question? They become angry, pick fights with Bro., walk down paths of extreme righteousness, and begin causing disharmony in their Lodges. They forget one of the basic, foundational lessons of Freemasonry – nothing must disrupt the harmony of the Lodge, and the clearing of variances is crucial between members. We all learn this as E.A.s.
The Mason is, to me a builder of many things. We build with thought-forms, with ideas, with knowledge. We build upon lessons learned and carve out the rough points so that the work is smoother next go-round. We also build upon our Masonic careers. We do not jump immediately to a degree because we’re “ready” for that degree. We build upon the lessons learned within that degree and keep ourselves to our promises within every degree previous. That is, we are ever the apprentice, whatever number is listed at the end of our names. The apprentice learns how to create solid work, sturdy, and with consciousness that is lacking in the untrained. Those skills stay with us, in Freemasonry, outside of Freemasonry, and through our lives.
Foundation stones must be strong to bear the weight. They must be tried and tested, fitted and adjusted, before a whole structure is placed into their care. As we grow in Co-Masonic numbers, it seems to me there needs to be a place for testing and proving before the stone is laid. We need to learn to be patient and find the right stone, not just any stone, to lay in that corner. If we don’t take the time to learn how to look for people who are stable, strong, and solid to begin with, we will end up starting over and over again. For that, perhaps the Master Mason must put on his E. A. hat and tread the path over again, reminding himself of what he is, not what he was.
I have questioned myself often about what Freemasonry, and being a Co-Mason, as done for me. I question if I’ve achieved the top of my profession, my avocation, or if there is still more to go? Can I bear the weight? Do I know myself well enough to know when enough is enough? I question and doubt everything, because failing is, to me, not an option. I can be decisive in knowledge, and by questioning and doubting, I find knowledge. Wisdom is that knowledge applied, with the strength to carry it out.
For me, to ‘achieve’ a degree is nonsense. I cannot achieve some betterment of character to fit someone’s, even Freemasonry’s boundaries. The only thing I can do is to continue to better myself, grow, learn, become the best version of me, and hope that it fits to Freemasonry’s goals as well. So far, we seem to be walking hand in hand.