The night before was spent in a hotel in Springfield Massachusetts, where men (actually Boys) from all over New England gathered before boarding the plane to Great Lakes Illinois. We didn't know each other but we had all taken the same oath.
"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
After a short flight we were herded onto a bus and driven to the place we would call home for the next eight weeks, Boot Camp. After we arrived, we were stripped of all of the worldly possessions we came with, which were then boxed up and sent back home. We were then dressed in the same sweat suits and lined up for a barber to remove the final distinguishing characteristics of our former selves, our hair. Although we came in different shades of melatonin, from that point forward we became one color, Navy Blue.
The next eight weeks of trial and error, pride and punishment, joy and pain, united eighty men from every state, creed, color, and background into one. We learned early on that we were only as strong as our weakest shipmate, so we needed to quickly adapt the mantra of teamwork if we were to shine as a unit, which we did. Never in my short eighteen years of life did I ever form such a tight bond with other men as I had in such a short time. That was boot camp. It was my first experience of true Brotherhood.
Men and women who never volunteered for the military service can never exactly know that trust and bond which servicemen the world over share. Servicemen and women all experience a similar trial, and upon completion, become bound by a tie that never can be broken. Since my departure from service I had not felt a similar tie until I knocked upon the door of Freemasonry.
In like manner, I came of my own free will and accord to offer my services to the Craft. On the night of my initiation into the fraternity I sat in a room with men whom I had never before met. We were divested of our belongings and then bound by an obligation. After the trials of the degree were over we were Brothers. Unlike boot camp we all went home to our own houses and went our separate ways until the next meeting of the lodge. The ties of Freemasonry are harder to forge because of this fact. There is just too much time in between meetings and too many distractions in our lives to quickly bind men. Yet with much work and perseverance we can labor to build that temple built from living stones that we call a lodge.
There are walls that we as men build in our minds to protect us from others. From a young age we begin to erect these walls from stones of rejection. Some build walls of macho' ism, "me big man you can't hurt me", some build walls of aloofness "I am far too intelligent for you to hurt me", and others of scorn "you cant hurt me cause I don't give a sh**!". These walls may protect our egos and our self esteem but they are facades which do not reveal our true selves to others. If we never live the life we were meant, because we hide behind walls, we fail our true purpose of being. This is where brotherhood steps in.
In boot camp we were put on the same level by the government and built up in the image of our particular service. While there I saw men cry, fight, laugh and overcome great obstacles together because we worked together. Not all of the walls were removed but we could not help reveal our true selves because that was all we had. We could not hide behind a suit or gangster clothes or leather jackets because they were left behind at the beginning. When one guy could not do the push ups that we were all doing, he got help at night because he was our shipmate and we were not going to leave him behind, we needed him. He, in turn, helped guys who had trouble with the academic side to basic training because that was his strength. That is what our lodges should be.
When we are divested of our material things and appear before the lodge, neither barefoot nor shod neither naked or clothed, we stand before the lodge and more importantly our creator as the raw material needed to complete a spiritual temple. Not all stones are created the same. Some are naturally stronger and more dense and can hold heavy loads on their shoulders. Some have the quality of being carved into intricate and beautiful things to adorn the aesthetics of the temple. One is not better than the other because with out them all gathered together the temple will never be complete.
If we take the opportunity of entering into the Craft to start chipping away at our "walls" and reveal our true selves to our Brothers we take the first step in the building of that spiritual temple. We cannot labor alone, we must use the talents and uniqueness of every Brother in the lodge to build, but we cant lay a foundation on a man who acts like something he is not. Until we reveal our true selves to each other we can never start that spiritual building project that Freemasonry is meant to be. Your Brother can accept you for what you are better than your friend. Friends come and go, but Brotherhood is forever because we swear to our creator that we will protect and defend our Craft for the benefit of ourselves and the men we will for ever after that time call Brother.
Post Script. At the last meeting of my lodge I sat in the East for the first time to confer the degree of Entered Apprentice on a friend who has been like a brother to me for a very long time. Quality men from a lodges halfway across the State came to help me in this endeavor because we became friends after a man whom I consider a friend and mentor left me in their fraternal care a month ago. Now my old friend is my Brother and my new Brothers who I just became friends with, helped me do it. We all met on the Level, acted on the Plumb, and Departed on the Square and I look forward to all of the fraternal relations to come. Its great to be back in a Brotherhood!