From my recent blog post, a fellow Mason asked me to explain myself better when I was talking about remembering who we are, not who we were. I acknowledged that I could have done a better job at that; let me talk about that now.
One of the conundrums of Freemasonry, for me, has been the fact that as I mature in degrees and Masonic knowledge, I have to also be an example for, and sometimes employ and instruct the newer members. When this happens, I feel the weight of the years, knowledge, experiences, and forgotten lessons tumble over me. I hear myself talk to a new member about the importance of being curious about Freemasonry, and equally sighing when I hear about how they really are here to work toward “reaching enlightenment” or “having a spiritual experience.” While I think these things might be possible on the Freemasonic path, I don’t find them to be the goals of Freemasonry. They are simply the goals of the aspirant. Sometimes, I get frustrated with Freemasons who have been members a shorter time, trying to teach people about everything but Freemasonry, or sliding a bit in their duties as Freemasons, or who expect that other members will clean up the dishes, sweep the floors, or wash their sheets. I find myself shooting darting glaces as members whisper in Lodge or give direction to another officer, without permission or authorization. Work, discipline, silence, observation, learning, Service – they all pop into my mind as admonishments to others. Why? Because I have spent years admonishing myself in those same areas.
Thus, I have to remember who I am. I have been a Co-Mason for over twenty years and I have gone through all of those things which now frustrate me. Like a reformed smoker, I am distasteful of the bad habits, forgetting that I too used to do them. As I walk backward down my road, I remember how people handled my foibles. I remember how I handled them. I threw myself into learning about myself, why I did certain things, and how they made me react. I learned what Masonry was trying to teach me as a framework and how to hang my “me” on that erector set. I cried, got angry, had breakthroughs, hit walls – all in the day to day workings with my fellow Masons. I took those lessons into the “mundane” world and worked them. I am still working them – feverishly, hungrily, and passionately. I am the summation of every degree and every lesson I can absorb from those degrees. Every time I sit in Lodge, I still see something new, something I never saw before – in me, in others, in life.
When that weight comes on me, in instructing or employing a member of my Lodge, it’s because I have to remember that I am the whole of the degrees and lessons and experience that I’ve gained as a Freemason. I am not the last degree I took. I am not any special or favorite degree. I am all of them, including and especially the first one. That is the foundation whence I came and it will cradle me when I return. It truly is an Alpha and an Omega, the Ouroboros. I have to remember that this new member in front of me, who is bright with anticipation and hungry for learning, is not the “me” I am now but the “me” from twenty years ago, still fresh from a world that expects very different things than Freemasonry. It is difficult for them to shift from one set of expectations to another, especially when the Freemasonic world is so tenuous to them. I have to find the balance between trying to guide them into being a new Freemason while ensuring that their future needs are met and informed: not unlike being a parent. We try to give our children what we “never had” but in doing so, we may intend them to grow up faster than we would like. There is a blessing in the new discoveries of a freshly-minted Freemason, and as an “older” Mason, I can tap into that joy while still trying to make sure they are well-prepared for their journey. The crux of this is being neither too much in the past, which may pave the way for complacency and ill-informed “compassion,” and too much in the “me of now,” which expects that the new Freemason feels about Freemasonry and its value as I do.
I am not always carrying that “employ and instruct” weight but other weights take its place. Some of my duties provide me the opportunities to help others and some provide me the space to be an example. I find that no matter my station or responsibility, there is some weight of experience, knowledge, and discipline that the responsible Freemason owns, of any degree. There is also the balance in remembering what I was, what I have learned, honoring where other people are, and being respectful as well as challenging.
As I write this, I know this is my own journey to tread, and these lessons are all part of the process for me. They may not be the same for others, who view Freemasonry differently or have different lessons to learn. Some people might find that this poses no problem for them, or gives them any pause. I hope that I might learn from them even as they might learn from me. A shared experience is stronger for the shared knowledge, I believe. The summation of our shared knowledge is what helps us all grow and become the better people we wish to be, not matter our goal. That shared knowledge also becomes the goals of Freemasonry – to be guides and helpers of the ignorant, to shine Truth, Love and Peace through understanding one another, and build a universal brotherhood of Humanity.