Points well made

“You’re wearing your ring the wrong way, you know.”

The Past Master tried to be nonchalant, but the way he slightly emphasized the “you know” implied that he didn’t actually think that I did know, and he was going to make sure that I knew I didn’t know.

You know how some people are.

“That’s odd,” I replied, “I was sure it was on correctly when I left the house.”

I shifted the glass of Jameson’s to my left hand and held my up my right,  wriggling my fingers.

“Yeah, see?” I pointed out. “The big part of the ring is on the outside and the the skinny part is on the inside. It would really be uncomfortable the other way.”

To his credit, he didn’t take the bait, being more interested in pointing out my mistake.

“No, you’re wearing it with the points out. You should be wearing it with the points in.”

“In where?”

“Pointing in, toward you,” he said.

I curled my fingers and moved my hand around a bit. “Aren’t they pointing in now?”

“No, I mean pointing in on your finger.” He was obviously being very patient with me. “The points on the compasses should be pointing up your finger to your hand, back to you.”

“What? Why’s that?”

“Because you’re not a Past Master, that’s why.”

He sipped his beer and gave me a knowing look. I swirled the glass of Irish whiskey, hearing the tiny cubes tinkle in the glass.

“I don’t remember that being in the ritual monitor,” I said.

“There are lots of things about Masonry that aren’t written down,” he replied. “You just have to learn them the hard way.”

He took another sip of his beer.  “Do you always wear it that way?”

“Well, maybe,” I replied. “I hadn’t really thought much about it until now.”

“I’m surprised that nobody else has mentioned it before,” he said. “I guess I just must be more observant.”

“What possible difference could it make?” I asked “It’s only a ring.”

“It’s the symbolism,” he explained, “a only a Master can give light; you have only received it.”

“I’m pretty sure that the flashlight is the working tool of one of the other degrees.”

“Now you’re just being a Mr. Smarty Pants. The Worshipful Master gives light during the degrees. You, however, haven’t done that; you should wear your ring with the points in, the way you saw them on the altar.”

“Points in?”

“Yes. Look, how were the points arranged when you were brought to light?”

“The same way they always are,” I replied.

“Exactly – with you looking up at them.”

“Uhh… up?”

“Right. So, when the ring is on your finger, the points should be arranged the same way as when you first saw them, to remind you of that experience.”

“Unless I’ve given light, right?”

“Yes, now you’re getting it.”

I politely declined his offer of a little cigar, and pulled out my own pack of cigarettes. I struck my lighter,  a small butane novelty, and offered it to him. We stood for a few moments, enjoying the cool evening on the back stairs.

“I don’t suppose that counts as ‘giving light’, does it?”

He shook his head. “No, and you’re being a Mr. Smarty Pants again.”

“I’m just trying to be clear on this,” I explained. I took another sip of my Irish whiskey and thought for a moment. “I sort of get the symbolism – sort of. But, as a Junior Warden, though, I’ve done degree work. I’ve initiated new brothers. That sounds like I’ve given light – at least, partially.”

He paused for a bit, and then answered. “No, that doesn’t count.”

He didn’t seem compelled to explain why, so I asked him.

“Because, only the Master can give light.”

“But I was in the chair doing the work.”

“Yes, but you weren’t the Master.”

“But I was doing the work of the Master.”

“That may be, but you were not the actual Master.”

“So, are you saying that those new brothers aren’t real Masons?”

“Hmm?”

“Because the candidates certainly didn’t notice the difference.” I went on, “But if I didn’t actually give any light, and if I follow what you’re saying, then they must not actually be Masons. It would really be a bad thing if all of those lodges that have the Wardens do degree work turn out to not actually be initiating Masons. Why, half the members in this district are probably invalid, if that’s the case.”

He thought for a moment. “No, that’s not right. You did it with the permission of the Master, so you were acting through him.”

I conceded, but then asked “So, what if the master called out sick that night? I’d still have been doing the work, right? Would that mean that…”

“No, you’re purposely making this difficult,” he pointed out. “Only the Master gives light, so only he is entitled to wear his ring with the points out,” he insisted. “It’s symbolic.”

“And we’re big on symbols around here, I’ve noticed.”

“Right.” He took another sip of beer. “Besides, when you go around with the points out, pretty much anybody can see them.

“Well, it is a ring…”

“Yes, but it’s almost like you’re advertising that you’re a Mason.”

“Wait, what?”

“You’re supposed to be keeping the secrets of Masonry, right? You don’t go blabbing it all over, right? You do know that we used to call ourselves ‘The Quiet Fraternity’, right?”

“Yes, that was one of the things that I liked when I was reading about the fraternity; the lack of blatant self-promotion.”

“Exactly so,” he answered. “When you have your points out, it makes it easy for anybody to notice them. That’s why I said, it’s almost like you’re advertising that you’re a Mason.”

“Advertising?”

Ne nodded. “Like you’re showing off, or something.”

“Oh, I get it,” I replied, “We are quiet and internally directed because we’re making ourselves better men; so advertising our affiliation with our rings makes it look like we simply joined for the sake of joining.”

Ne nodded again. “Now you understand,” he declared, “I’m glad we had this little chat.”

He finished the rest of his beer and moved toward the door.

“Umm, one thing,” I said.

“Yes?”

I motioned at the two dozen or so cars in the parking lot, almost all of which were sporting decals with the logos of Blue Lodge, York Rite, or the Shrine. Several of them also had the now familiar “2B1 Ask 1″ bumper stickers.

“Why do you suppose it is that my small, discreet ring is ‘advertising’, but all of those decals, badges, and bumper stickers are simply showing pride in membership?”

The old Past Master stubbed out his cigar, and turned toward the door. “Some people,” he snorted, “just don’t get the point, even when you poke them with it.”

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