Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Doldrums

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be ;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion ;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I once read an allegory about coals and fire that went something like; when a coal is separated from the fire it starts to cool and loose its heat but all you need to do is return it to the fire and it blazes back to life.

Every year our lodge goes “dim” for the summer (although sometimes called going dark, we use the term dim because the light of masonry never goes out completely). It is a two month break from the twice a month ritual of congregating with my brethren that in one aspect is a welcome break from the labor of Freemasonry but at the same time it does not take long for the break in routine to turn into outright laziness. There is no planning or practicing or communicating and although I still talk to several of my lodge brothers over the summer, unlike usual, the conversation almost never revolves around the craft.

It is amazing to me sometimes how quickly my “coal” gets cool when separated from the fire of lodge. The more I am away from lodge the less I think esoterically and the harder it becomes for me to think the deeper thoughts I wish to explore. Even daily Facebook updates from Phoenix Masonry or Albert Pike start to loose their allure the longer I am not doing the work of a Freemason.

It is at this tricky time that the question comes into my mind about the worth of my dedication to the fraternity. When separated from the constant labor of the craft with loads of time to spare and nary an email or call about lodge I wonder if I am better off for being a mason. This is a troubling aspect of the doldrums because it can raise doubt where normally it would not exist. Would my family be better off if I were not rushing off to lodge every two weeks? Am I cheating time away from my children when my thoughts are revolving around lodge and not them? Is my membership a thorn in the side of the relationship with my wife? Are there better things that I can do with my time than being a Freemason? These are all thoughts that start banging around in my head when the wind is taken out of the sails during the doldrums.

The key thing I am learning in life and in masonry is to not view these times as stagnation but as times of calm to reflect on my journey. When I was fully employed and working 50 plus hour weeks I saw my wife and children a lot less and although our bank account was better off then, it took the shock of a layoff to make us realize that it also cost more to sustain that lifestyle. Were we better off then or now with me spending more time with the kids and struggling to make ends meet? There is no good answer. My extended period of un/under-employment has taught me that no matter how smart or talented you are we are all subject to the shifting winds of government and economy and it is not personal.

So go also the doldrums of Freemasonry. Although I had loads of time before I was a Brother I certainly filled those times with other stuff and not all of them particularly productive or beneficial to my family. My dedication to the craft has brought me, at times, profound joy and many accomplishments that have made me a better man than had I not joined. The Brothers I have acquired along the way have become an extended family that I have relied on more than I care to admit and whose friendship I have come to cherish. The demands of the order have been much less than rewards I have reaped.

I need to use this time of calm to gather my strength and sharpen my wits for the time when the winds of lodge start blowing again. It is not the time to let bad thoughts enter my head or let doubt cast a cold shadow upon all that has been built. The doldrums will pass and the coals will be gathered together again to burn as hot and bright as ever. They always have.