The Masonic Hokey Pokey
You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it.
A man is raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, and in the course of speaking about his experience, or perhaps while being presented with a pin from a good friend or a ring that has been passed down from his grandfather, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion, perhaps even breaking into tears. Moments later, his emotion is echoed by at least half a dozen men who were completely dry-eyed just a minute earlier.
Now, come on. We’re Masons. Solid citizens, conservative, thoughtful. This is not some Iron John drum-beating, sweat-lodge, primal-scream, face-painting organization, so why the drama?
I wrote about a degree that Friendship did at another lodge. As I gave the obligation, I could see that the candidate from the host lodge was visibly distraught – so much so that immediately after the obligation I stopped to whisper to him, asking if he was alright enough to continue. He assured me that he was, and I continued the degree. At the very end, when we were about to close lodge, I asked if the newly raised brothers had anything to offer. In his slightly southern drawl he started to talk about how his father and grandfather were Masons, and how good and kind they were, and that after they had died, that he, himself decided that he wanted to become one, too. He spent the next several years in jobs that didn’t allow him much free time, and that this was the first opportunity he’d had to join, some ten years after he’d made that promise to himself. He broke into tears when he talked about how sorry he was that his father and grandfather couldn’t be with him that day, and moments later half of the men in the lodge were wiping their own eyes, yours truly included.
My SW – an astute pupil of human nature – was trying to help him over his embarrassment, and explained “Don’t worry about it. Every single one of the guys in this room is hokey. We all are. And everyone has a story like yours, or they wish that they had. Don’t give it another thought.”
On hearing that, I thought to myself “Hokey? Me? No way! I listen to the news on NPR. I drink wine with dinner. I don’t even have a bumper sticker on my car. I can’t be hokey!”
And then I remembered a few years ago, when I was a JD and the new WM was being installed – someone that I looked up to, whom I regarded as a mentor. He’d spent some time in the craft, then had to take some time off, and had come back in, and had taken the officer’s chairs. He stood at the lectern with a prepared speech, and talked about how he first joined, and about some of the great guys that he’d met, and about the long road for him to the East… and he broke down. He was so overcome that his wife got up to read the rest of his speech for him. For Rich, being voted in by his friends and compatriots was more than serving as, say, the PTA president. He had such a high regard for the fraternity, and felt honored to such a degree that he briefly wondered if he even deserved such a show of support. Those who knew Rich for many years were almost as overcome as he was. Even I and a few of the new officers, sitting there in our new jewels and aprons, barely knowing anyone else, could sense that this was something very special to him, and I remember feeling very sentimental at the time.
Of course, sentimental is not the same as hokey.
Later that year, we had a MM degree. An older gentleman from another lodge was there to see his grandson raised. At the end, he asked for permission to make a presentation. He approached the East, and spoke a little of his own Masonic background, and produced a gold ring. He presented the ring to his grandson – it fit perfectly! – and then explained that the ring had belonged to his own father, who had passed it on to him when he was raised. He his son – the young man’s father – had recently died without having joined the fraternity, and so he had not had the opportunity to pass it on to anyone until that day.
When he finished speaking there was not a dry eye in the house.
Hokey? Sentimental? Drum-beating?
I never stopped to examine just what it is about the fraternity, about these stories that resonate with us so. I may never quite understand it, either, but hokey or not, I’m thankful for the opportunity to hear them, to see them, and perhaps one day, to have one of my own.