Always Remember Rule One
A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.
When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”
After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”
— Zen Stories, “Nature’s Beauty”
So, summer is almost over and in getting ready for the remaining part of the year I was leafing through my ritual book when out fell a paper with three names on it. It took me a moment to figure out why these names were on a paper.
They were the names of the three young men that I initiated the first time I sat in the East.
It was about two years ago when, during a phone call with the “New Age” Dave, the Worshipful Master of Friendship Lodge at the time, he asked who I had lined up for which positions in the upcoming Entered Apprentice degree. Momentarily panicked, I replied that I thought he, as the WM, was the one that scheduled all that. Nope, that was all mine, he explained. Start to finish, soup to nuts, A to Z. I tactfully mentioned that I’d wished he’d clued me in on this sooner, then I hung up and went to work.
I really should have known better. Dave and I are long-time friends, and I should have remembered that Dave is a “big-picture guy”, as I like to call him. Not really much for details, though…
Lodges have different ways to prepare the upcoming WM for his duties. At Friendship, we typically have two sets of degrees: one set in late winter/early spring and the other in the fall. In the fall, the Junior Warden takes the East for the EA degree and later, the Senior Warden takes the big chair for the Fellowcraft degree. When you consider that at some point we’ll have a Past Master’s degree, then it seems like the WM hardly has to do anything at all!
Since I had already been studying, I made the phone calls to make sure that the rest of the guys were studying, too. Not only is the WM spot taken by another officer, but we usually move every officer up one chair to prep them for the next year. Our degree was scheduled for the second meeting in September (we meet twice a month on the first and third Wednesdays), and all of the officers were prepared, or at least assured me that they would be prepared in time.
Friendship Lodge is crazy. In a time when many lodges can’t fill the officer’s chairs, and when some WMs need to stay in the East for two or three years until the rest of the line is “seasoned”, our lodge usually has a complete line of officers, none of which are Past Masters. While it happened that I skipped three chairs, it appears that it was an anomaly; we have not had to recycle a PM since 1978.
But that’s not why we’re crazy. We’re crazy because at any time, out of the seven officers in the line, five of them will really, really enjoy doing the degree ritual. I’m one of them. Seriously, if you had told me five or six years ago that I’d be hamming it up with archaic British turns of phrase, I’d ask what you were smoking. But now, once I get through memorizing the words I start working on my delivery. I stand up, walk around, wave my arms, modulate my voice… in short, I try to get into the mindset of a WM from the 1700s trying to make an impression of the seriousness and solemnity of the degree on a nervous candidate in the back upper room of some old inn. And I’m certainly not the only one in lodge who does this. We have not one, but two rehearsals for every degree, and we rehearse from the opening to the closing. Crazy, I’m telling you.
The upcoming EA degree was special because the Senior Deacon was bringing in one of his sons, and the Junior Deacon was bringing in his younger brother. I had escorted the JD around for his own EA degree, and I was happy to have a part in bringing his brother into the lodge as well. The JD and SD, each taking the part of the next station, were going to join me at the altar for the grippy part. The Stewards had rehearsed the First Section Lecture (we added some floor work to make it more interesting and meaningful). One brother, a Senior DeMolay, was going to take the Marshal’s chair and deliver the charge at the end of the evening.
Yup, we’re all set.
A few of the guys missed the first rehearsal; no biggie. The second rehearsal was great, even with a lot of fooling around. Admittedly, we goof off a bit in rehearsal, in part because we pretty much know what we’re doing, and while we want to take it seriously, we also want to have fun with it. So a couple of days before the degree we’re having a Trowel Club meeting (other lodges have similar groups with different names; Craftsmen’s Club, etc.), and the young Marshal-to-be asks if I’m sure I want him to do the charge. Of course I do; he assured me that he did particularly well at memorizing DeMolay ritual, and that he’d have no problem getting the EA charge down. Well, seems that he’d been working a lot and really hadn’t put the time into it that he should have. I told him that I had every confidence in him, and that he still had a couple of days, so we wouldn’t worry about it. He thought about it for a moment and agreed that he should be able to make a good job of it. And since I was already in a dither over my own part, I promptly forgot about it.
A couple of days later, it’s not a rehearsal anymore. I’d taken half a day off from work just to get calmed down and into the correct mindset. Dinner was great, not that I could eat anything (even now I still get nervous before meetings and won’t eat until afterwards). The degree itself was great; the first half moved along smoothly as everyone did everything right on cue, including an optional bit that the SW and the Deacons added in without telling me first – just because they wanted to impress me. The obligations came off without a hitch, and we soon took a break. The candidates were suitably impressed, and when we came back to labor the officers did a fine job with the new version of the lectures. I was proud of the work of the evening, it seemed that I’d never seen any degree come off so well.
Then the Marshal got up to do the charge. He was sweating profusely. He faced the candidates, got through a few sentences, and paused for a prompt. Big deal, right? Well, it was that night; especially impressive because it was the first time in their respective spots, the degree had come off with only one or two prompts, at least up until that point. The Marshal, aware of this, got even more nervous. And paused. Paused again. And again. And again. When he finally finished, you could almost see the huge weight falling from his shoulders, although he looked horribly downcast as he returned to his chair.
We ended the degree on a high note, with lots of hand shaking and back slapping and high-fiving, and we all went downstairs for coffee and, that is, except for me and a PM that I considered to be a mentor. Richie told me not to worry about it, and pointed out that the Marshal had learned a lesson and would never again be so unprepared; indeed, he does very well, and is now serving as the Junior Steward, and does a fantastic job as a DeMolay advisor. Later, the candidates all told me how “believable” the degree was, and how much they enjoyed it, and how impressed they were. Visitors congratulated our work, seemingly impressed that everyone was serving in a different chair. I went home, proud of the fantastic job that they did, and proud of myself as well.
Now, you might think that this is a lesson to young officers to make sure that they study up. Yeah, sure, if you want. And if my JS is reading this, believe me; I’m not trying to make you feel badly or relive a bad moment. That’s not the point here.
No, this is not a lesson for the junior officers. This is a lesson for the Worshipful Masters out there.
See, the Marshal warned me that he might not have it down. He told me that he thought he’d be able to memorize it in a few days because of his DeMolay background, but apparently it just didn’t come together for him. He came to me two days beforehand, and although he reassured me that he’d be okay, I completely ignored Rule Two:
Always have a Plan “B”.
I should have contacted a PM to ask if they could brush up “just in case”. I should have offered to work more closely with the Marshal. I should have done something other than what I’d done, which was to smile and be supportive and to hope for the best.
As the Master of the lodge, you have a responsibility bordering on the sacred to make certain that the candidate gets the absolute best degree work possible. That means not just your own command of ritual, but using your best managerial skills to make sure that everyone else is going to work to the best of their capacity as well. Especially for an EA Degree; it is the first exposure to the mysteries of Freemasonry that a brother will have, and it should be one of the most impressive, solemn and thought-provoking experiences that he will remember for years to come.
Okay, it was my first time in the East. The candidates were impressed, and things ended well. Besides, nothing is perfect, and we need these little bumps in the road to allow us to appreciate the good parts of life’s highway, right? I’d even forgotten about it until that bit of paper fell out of my book the other day, but even with only four months of meetings left in my year, Rule Two is still a lesson worth remembering.