Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Brother Gave Me An Intricate Old Key...

It was a very cold night, a cold that not even the strongest whiskey could ward off. I traveled my usual way down a few roads the short distance to the magnificent edifice that was home to our order. The main spire of the old brownstone building reached up, a bell-less steeple, to the reflected light of the lunar orb that illuminated the icy night with an eerie glow. As I approached the rear entrance as was my custom long before everyone else, I was surprised to find the heavy oak doors with the ornate brass handles slightly ajar and a sliver of warm brightness from within. With keen interest I creaked open the door and walked toward the source of the warmth and light at the top of the stairs. 
The ante room was filled with paintings and artifacts the likes of which just by their existence added to the mystery and majesty of the gentile craft of which I proudly called my own and along the back wall by a large fireplace sat an aged Brother staring at the fire like a work of art. He did not stir as I approached, he just sat there in quiet communion with the fire before him and there in his hands was an old key. As I sat down next to him breaking the trance he turned his familiar grey eyes to me and without words handed me the key. I recognized it on sight and wondered why this was the first time that a Brother gave me an intricate old key...............

Well... thats not exactly how it happened but at my last lodge meeting a Brother lent me his copy of The Hiram Key. It is strange that of all the Masonic or quasi Masonic books that I have devoured in the past five years I had never gotten this book. Maybe it is because of the controversy that surrounds the book or perhaps because it does expose some aspects of Masonic ritual I had never approached it, but here it was free for my consumption and consume it I did.
Even though I am in the middle of three other books,  the other night I picked it up and spent two days devouring its contents. Its funny how when my Brother gave it to me and tried to explain some of its contents I was so quick to question and dismiss some of the ideas expressed within and yet as I read the same ideas I found myself getting sucked right in also.
It began with two mason Brothers, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas trying to find out more about the foggy origins of Freemasonry and blossoms into an intriguing web of theory and speculation linking the earliest civilization of man in Sumeria to Egypt, Jesus, the knights Templar, Braveheart, America, all the way to the average Joe tying on an apron at his monthly lodge meeting. It takes just about everything in the world of history that I hold dear and puts them all together under one cover. I read with open eyes and no judgement and truly enjoyed the book. Being a seeker of the hidden secrets myself, I was easily drawn into their theory and found many parallels with other works I had read and many ideas struck a chord with me. It wasn't until after I had finished that I did my internet search and read counter points and the negative reviews but even then I found that I still think they trampled upon some valid connections.
The biggest problem some people have with the book is that they the authors constantly and quickly turn their conclusions into fact and move on to the next part without indisputable proof, but that is what I enjoy about it because you walk along with them in their excitement. I can just imagine how I would feel having the celebratory drink after a realizing that I made a connection that no-one else had or even dreamed of, even if some are a bit far fetched. The thing is that they create a good narrative and prove their theories as good as a couple of non-historians can.
If you are a Master Mason and wish to explore some alternative histories and interesting theories and make your own conclusions it is a very fun book. If you are just starting to research Freemasonry and are planning to knock on a lodge door soon, wait because they do, without giving up any secrets of the craft, expose in detail many of the rituals and things that make the Masonic experience so special and enjoyable.
I kind of want to start a book discussion group in my lodge and crack this book with a few of my own Brothers and see where we can go with some of the ideas.
Can you say Junto anyone? (Ben Franklins autobiography is one of the books I put down to read this one)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Angels

(This is a re-post on what would have been my son Jack's 5th birthday. We miss you.)

An angel is a supernatural being found in many religions. In Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, angels, as attendants or guardians to man, typically act as messengers from God. My daughter was born 5 weeks premature. There was no official reason for my daughter coming early, but on the night she was born the nurse told us that full moons often are to blame, and opened the window shade to the biggest full moon my wife and I had ever seen. I cried that night and asked God why he would do such a thing to such a small and helpless being and to please help her survive.

My daughter's lungs were just a little underdeveloped so she required assistance from a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) breather and some steroids to help the lungs finish developing. She spent over two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit which at the time seemed like an eternity. My wife and I were there everyday and for most of every night while my daughter learned how to eat and regulate her body temperature. We learned more in that time about prematurity and how a N.I.C.U.operates than we had ever known or ever would want to know but when it is your child in one of those incubator boxes you learn quickly. When we finally brought her home it was one of the greatest moments in my life.
Once you have a pre-term baby you are watched more closely than before and two years later my wife was being monitored closely indeed with our second child. We saw every moment of development on a black and white monitor thanks to the wonder of the sonogram. It was at one of these visits that our lives changed forever.
My wife and I always thought sonographers have a great job. They get to be a part of some of the greatest moments of a couples lives. They always have such a great bedside manner and we thoroughly enjoyed the visits for sonograms. It was during the fetal anatomy exam that we learned that there was another side to their jobs.
I will never forget the sonographers face as his pleasant demeanor changed to something more serious as he checked and rechecked what he was looking at. He said he was just having some trouble getting a good picture and left the room without telling us anything and when he returned he said we would need to go to the hospital for further examination and handed my wife the telephone to talk to a doctor. He asked her why we had not done the AFP test (an early genetic screen)to which we said that we chose not to do any tests because we would not do anything (i.e. terminate) if we found out something was wrong. Her face turned white and tears came rolling down her cheeks and she looked up to me and said "there's something wrong with the babies heart", barely able to talk.
We went to the hospital, where they performed a more detailed sonogram that proved our baby had a heart defect called Atrioventricular Septal Defect which basically meant that instead of four heart chambers our child had just one big one. This prompted a amniocentesis test that showed that our child had Down Syndrome also. This result came just before Thanksgiving that year and along with the genetic results of the amniocentesis we were given the sex of the child, a boy. It almost broke me to find out that my long hoped for son would have such a hard life. Growing up with three younger sisters and no brothers I spent most of my young life proclaiming that I would only have sons because I had my fill of being surrounded by girls. After the birth of my daughter I realized how a baby girl can snatch the heart of a father but I still longed for my boy. Here he was finally, but he was dealt a hard hand to play with for life, but I didn't care he was my son.
The mixed emotions of our news was hard at first but we resolutely moved forward and started preparing for the difficult journey ahead of us. We joined the National Down Syndrome Society and the Connecticut Down Syndrome Congress and read everything we could find on the Internet about heart defects and Down Syndrome. We wanted to know everything about we were about to go through because it was all we could do. We knew he was going to have to go through some major surgeries before he was even able to be brought home but we never lost hope for our son.
It was during this time, while on the computer one night researching my sons problems, that Freemasonry came into my focus. I had the TV on the History Channel as usual in the back ground and during a show on the Founding Fathers of the United States I heard the narrator say that so many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. For some reason this statement got my attention. I had read things that mentioned them and had heard about them but did not know what it is they were about. Being at my computer already I Googled "Freemasons" and the rest is history that I have written about in more detail here before.
Soon afterward my wife went into labor 10 weeks too early, and although they tried everything to stop it, my son was born. The reason he came so early was that his stomach was not connected to his intestines a defect called Duodenal Atresia, so he did not, as babies do, swallow amniotic fluid to control the fluid level in the womb so my wife had too much, which (we believe) caused her labor. Soon after his birth the doctors discovered he also had Esophageal Atresia which meant his esophagus did not connect to his stomach. All of these problems are associated with children with Down Syndrome but usually one at a time. My son got 'em all at once.
He went into major surgery five days into his life to connect his stomach to his intestines and correct a couple of other things that he had wrong. He survived that surgery and started the long haul to get him stronger and bigger for the other surgeries that he needed to survive. My wife and I traveled 40 miles each way from our house to the hospital every day to be with our son. We wanted him to know that we were there for him.
Our previous experience with a N.I.C.U. because of our daughter proved invaluable during our ordeal with our son and we often said that if it weren't for her we would have never made it. Her short stay was a walk in the park compared to what we went through with my son, but it was our introductory class to what we were to go through.
My son went through three more major surgeries, including an open heart and some serious scares before finally succumbing to the difficulty of constantly fighting for life. He was just too tired after struggling for six months to live. He died in our arms surrounded by people who love him. We will never forget those men and women at the hospital who gave him every shot for life. He was and will always be my angel, my son.
Angels are messengers from God.
My daughter was an angel sent to my wife and I to learn about neonatal intensive care and she constantly reminds us why it is we have children. She was our guiding light during those six months and continues that duty to this day. The day after my son died she came to us and said "Jack's not sick anymore, he's in heaven" never had we heard more angelic words.
My son taught me how precious life is. It is not as easy as it seems and must be fought for at all cost, he never gave up. He guided me to things that I forgot I had in me and returned belief to my life. I am not the same man that I was before him. I think I am now closer to what I was put here in the first place for because I let things fall the way they come and trust that it is for a higher purpose. I got his message.
Thanks Jack.
P.S. We have since been blessed by another angel who's full term delivery and smiley face have helped heal the loss of our precious son.
P.P.S. We now have been blessed with yet a fourth little gift, another son the happiest boy we know.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Theater of Freemasonry

Bring up the lights... knock,knock,knock ... ACTION!  
Recently I had the absolute pleasure of watching one of my guys, mine because I was the top line signer on his petition, deliver the mother of all Masonic lectures the second degree's Middle Chamber, to a couple of deserving Brothers with such style and passion I could not stop thinking about it for a couple of days. For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, or for those from Masonic jurisdictions who do not give the Middle Chamber in the Fellowcraft degree, it is about twenty pages long and describes and explains everything from the orders of architecture to the liberal arts and sciences in a dramatic way. When it is done wrong it is a guaranteed cure for sleeplessness for everyone involved but when done right, like it was done the other night, it captures and captivates and feeds the fire of learning of our order.
So much of Masonic ritual can be enhanced and made to come to life when done with a little dramatic flair. Imagine you read about some amazing play at some fantastically decorated old theater, you spend some time imagining how it is staged and performed and your anticipation builds. You finally scrape together the money to get a ticket to see it and you spend the whole drive to the playhouse anticipating the evening. When you enter the old auditorium you are amazed at the architecture and details of the room. The lights go down and you hardly can believe you are finally there, then the lights come up and the cast comes on stage in immaculate costumes and....the lead begins to drone in a monotone a long soliloquy that you can barely stay awake for, then you catch some of the ensemble peaking at a script while they mutter through their lines with no inflection or meaning and every now and then there is a long pause as someone tries to remember their line. You bear with all of your patience through the first act and you run as fast as you can to your car during the intermission.
At least you can walk out of a bad play, yet most men who come across bad ritual at their lodge quietly endure and if they make it through two more "encores" get their dues card and never come back. Who wants to go see a bad performance over and over again? Even the best written script can be a painful experience when delivered wrong. That is why me must add something to the ritual. Even if you can deliver it word for word and understand every part that you recite, if you can not deliver it with passion and a little dramatic flair chances are you will loose the audience, our candidates, eventually.
Now I know that not every Mason has the ability to perform like Sir Lawrence Olivier but even if we can sprinkle in a few Bill Murrays (it was just Groundhog Day) our fraternity would be the better for it. Maybe even Grand Lodges could do some workshops on acting as much as they have ritual seminars to raise the level of performance in our Lodges, cause when you see a Middle Chamber done by a young excited Freemason you connect to the words a lot better and want more.