I had the pleasure to meet a elderly gentleman today who was a neighbor of a family member of mine. He was a very polite fellow, with a good measure of mirth and authority, tempered only by a touch difficulty to hear. In the conversation he dropped that he was 78, but you’d never guess it with the way he handled himself in his yard work.
The conversation started, after a quick exchange of pleasantries, with the innocent question to me of “Who was the Mason?” He had obviously noticed the bold square and compass on the back of my car, and it had intrigued him enough to ask about it.
I replied to him with the short reply that “I was so taken”, something any in the know brother should key in to, but I realized in just a few seconds that he wasn’t so taken, and I replied the it was me, with the elevator speech prepping to roll off my tongue, only to have him interrupt me.
“My dad was a Mason” he said with a fond gleam in his eye. “Yeah, he was a 22nd, or 32nd or something…” “I used to know the handshakes, something he told me never to throw out there, or someone would really lay into me”. I smiled to myself as he said it.
“Yeah, I have his Bible inside”.
“A Blue Masonic Bible?” I asked.
“Yeah, a big one, it was his grand-dads before him, and so on…” he trailed off, wistful again.
“I have all his things from the Masons, I’ve wanted to put into a shadow box for years” he said with a near tone of excitement. “His rings, pins, books, and lots of papers” again with a fond look in his eye.
“He had showed me all of it when I was 5, and he treated it with such reverence.” I could tell he was looking back in time. “I remember it like it was yesterday….” His yesterday trailed off for a few seconds, which I jumped on the memory to ask the question looming over us like a tree.
“So how come you never joined?” It felt like a lead weight on a line being thrown at his feet, but I had to ask.
“Oh, he dropped hints several times over the years, even inviting me to join, but I never took him up on it.” He said sounding almost regretful of the missed opportunities of the path that could of been. “I liked to ride motorcycles and hung with a rough crowd, not the kinds that were the Masons I knew. The Masons were all really good guys, and I didn’t think they would like me hanging with the crowds I ran with.”
“Its funny you should say that,” I said, “there are a lot of guys in the fraternity, including those that have bike clubs.”
“Oh I know, it just wasn’t in my cards to do it I suppose, but I have the fondest memories of my dad being in it.” he trailed off, and turned the conversation to the yard work and other mundane aspects of life.
Besides the obvious pleasure at the conversation, the exchange came to me at a time when I was asking the Great Architect some challenging questions: about life, about the fraternity, and my place in it, and its future. I know the last thing on the list is something bigger than any one person can answer, but its always been a burning question for me as I consider it in the face of my sons who I hope to one day join its ranks.
But what the conversation left me to think about, as I resumed the path of the rest of my day, was rather than simply consider why others would want to join, to take a few minutes and ask myself why did I join? Why did I become a Freemason and did it live up to those expectations? What could I do to make it that way? I’ve personalized it of course, but its a question we can all ask of ourselves. Why did I join Freemasonry?
The man who I had the conversation with didn’t join for what ever reasons, but his father did, and his father’s father did, and they probably had a hope that this, now elderly, gentleman would too. But, he didn’t for what ever reasons he had at the time. His progenitors are not here to ask why they joined, but we can ask ourselves that question.
So why did you decide to join?