The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur because of all the family visiting, people to transport to and from airports, phone calls, and the assorted arrangements that one makes when a family member dies.
I visited my grandmother at the hospice section of the hospital where she had been checked in. She was tired, but alert; we joked about the advances in hospital technology since she had been a nurse in the 1940s. She offered me a cookie, and after an hour or so decided that she wanted to take a nap. Less than a week later she was moved to a nursing home. My wife and I drove out to visit, but she was sleeping. I stayed away for the next few days, having come down with one of those flus that’s been making the rounds. Three days later, she passed away.
She was 95 years old. She died peacefully in her sleep, in a warm room surrounded by trashy romance novels, jigsaw puzzles, and loving family members. We should all be so fortunate.
But that’s not what I’m writing about.
The funeral was almost a week later. In any group of people in which I am present, you’d come out pretty well if you had bet on me to be the one person who wasn’t following the directions. I pulled into the visitor’s parking at the funeral home, which means that I never signed in for the automobile procession, had my name logged in, etc. As it happens, this allowed me to be the first to leave the funeral home and head for the church, several blocks away. I took a turn, drove halfway down the block and something out of the corner of my eye made me slam on the brakes.
If you were the soccer mom in the minivan behind me, I’m really sorry about that.
I had happened to catch sight of the familiar square and compasses on a sign as I drove down the street; I was surprised because I hadn’t known that there was a lodge in this town. Just a few weeks earlier I had been at a lodge in the next town, in a huge, old building. This lodge, just across the river, was a complete contrast. A small, unassuming building in a residential neighborhood, with the S&C prominently displayed. I’ll have to stop in sometime.
But that’s not what I’m writing about, either.
I pulled into a side parking lot of the church, and waited in the cold for the hearse to show up. After the family had gathered, we opened the back of the car and brought the casket out to trolley and wheeled it through the outer doors of the church and waited while the other family members filed past the casket and into the pews. We then wheeled the casket up toward the sanctuary.
It has been some years since I’ve been to a Roman Catholic service, probably since before I joined the fraternity. The church was done in the architecture more common after the 1960s – open and airy, almost giving the impression that the services were taking place outdoors. But it was the imagery on the crucifix – an ornate cross carried by one of the assistants – that caught my eye.
The crucifixes that I remember seeing when I was younger tended to be thin strips of wood, supporting a small sculpture of the crucified Jesus. This version was made of wide sections, with Jesus painted in the typical crucified manner: arms outstretched, head hanging down, blood on his side.
But that’s not what caught my eye. I had never seen – or at least, had never noticed – imagery around a crucifix. This one had at the bottom (under the picture of the cross itself) a skull atop what appeared to be a small pile of bones. While Connecticut Masonry does not use the skull and coffin in the ritual, it’s certainly familiar to any Mason who has seen pictures from other jurisdictions.
Looking up, I saw on the left side of the cross-piece a stylized picture of a crescent moon. This was matched on the opposite side by a stylized picture of the sun, complete with a number of radiant streamers. Both of these pictures would have been immediately recognizable to any Mason in Connecticut who has ever carried a Deacon’s staff. The likeness was unmistakable.
But there’s more.
At the very top of the cross was a large equilateral triangle. Inside the triangle was a dove, poised head downward. The wings, however, were partially outstretched and bisected the upper sides of the triangle, passing, or perhaps, breaking through the sides. The wings angled upward in such a way that if you had drawn a line from wingtip to the head and up to the other wingtip, you would have an angle approximating 90º.
Just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, at some point in the service I leaned over to my 12 year old daughter. “Check out the symbols around the cross by the casket,” I whispered.
It took her about three seconds. “That’s a Mason thing, isn’t it?” she whispered back.
Okay, so it wasn’t just my imagination – the setup had vaguely Masonic undertones.
As I listened to the priest describe the significance of the white shroud, the flowers, and the various other items around the area, my mind drifted off to wonder how our two organizations managed to develop the symbols that they
did, and why we had similar – though not necessarily identical – explanations for them. It led me to wonder if the semiotics – the underlying symbology itself – wasn’t based on some deeper or older meanings, meanings of which we may be currently unaware. Or perhaps, meaninngs which have passed the threshold of awareness because they are such a basic part of our cultural memes.
But that’s not really what I’m writing about.
Driving from the church to the cemetery, we passed a well-known local landmark; a statue of one of our Revolutionary War heroes mounted on a horse with one foot raised. I reflected on the folklore which suggests that one foot raised means that the subject was wounded in battle, while two legs off the ground meant that he was killed in battle.
The service at the cemetery was very brief, perhaps owing to the raw, damp weather and the forecast of snow. Several of the family members tossed rose petals into the grave.
My sister rode with me on the way back home, and we passed another well-known local statue of a famous area resident who had lived until a ripe, old age in a nearby city. He was on a horse with both legs off the ground.
But that’s not what I’m writing about.
My sister stayed with us overnight in order to better catch an early flight out. Although we had eaten in the afternoon, we decided to have a little snack. She put some bread into our new Italian-designed toaster-broiler-convection oven. She spent some minutes fumbling with the buttons, until I showed her the combination that would work: the one that looked like a stylized sliced section of a loaf and the other one that had wavy lines, presumably to represent heat. Very easy to follow, if you know what you’re looking for.
Sis doesn’t get out to Connecticut all that often, so we spent some time chatting, trying to catch up with each other’s lives. She’s less active with her church than she used to be, but has been spending a lot of time building up her side business as a photographer. I, of course, have been working a lot and when I’m not with my family, I’m usually doing something in my capacity as the District Grand Lecturer, which I explained was the guy in the area that tried to help the lodges in my area maintain the integrity of our ancient ceremonies that we have performed since time immemorial. I went on to explain that each ceremony has specific significance to it and teaches certain lessons in morality and natural philosophy. I also explained that while most states are similar in ritual, other countries have ceremonies and forms that are virtually unrecognizable to us – although, of course, we’re all still brothers… and in some cases, even sisters.
At that point I had to stop explaining so we could get some pizza.
But that’s not what I’m trying to write about.
The next day I dropped her off at the airport. On the way, I noticed the sign for the local Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union. There’s something familiar about it, isn’t there?
Anyway, I continued on my way to work, put in a full day, and then headed down to lodge right from the office. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, a light blinked on in the dashboard of my new truck. I’d never seen this light before, and had no idea what it meant. I parked the car and opened up the manual in the glove box to see if I could figure out what it was, but I couldn’t find it.
I hope it wasn’t anything important.
Tao of Masonry | Freemasonry | Masonry