Monday, June 25, 2007

The Mason's nightmare

W. Bro. Steve Barr of North Hollywood (Calif.) Lodge No. 542 penned this short story last week after his lodge conferred the Master Mason's degree.

Do you know "the actor's nightmare"? Where you dream you're up on stage, in front of a big audience, and you've suddenly forgotten your lines?

That happened to me last night. For real.

One of the newer brothers in my Masonic lodge has been very diligent in learning what he needs to know to progress through the initiatory degrees. He had demonstrated his proficiency in the Fellowcraft degree (which is the second of three) and I wanted to give him a special experience when he received his Master degree. So I invited the Shrine degree team to perform the ceremony for him.

The Shrine, if you didn't know, is a affiliate body of Freemasonry, known for their free children's hospitals, their distinctive fezzes, and driving little cars in town parades. Their degree team is highly regarded, and they travel around southern California performing the degrees for any Master who wants to give an initiate a mark of distinction.

My lodge hasn't performed this particular degree in a few months, and so I diligently brushed up on my lines for the part of the ceremony that we would perform before handing it over to the Shriners. And I'm really proud of my officers — we were nearly perfect with the stuff we did. That's important, because the Shrine degree team has a lot of big muckety-mucks from the world of Masonry, and they take ritual performance very seriously, and I wanted us to make a good impression.

But, in my brushing-up, I forgot that there's a part waaaay at the end of the ceremony that is always done by the actual Master of the lodge, no matter if someone else is sitting in for him during the ceremony. I hadn't even thought about it since the last time we performed the ceremony, and I didn't brush up on it at all.

And, well, it's not the sort of thing that a person can ad lib:

"Brother [last name], I congratulate you on your becoming a Master Mason, and as such I commend you to the kind care, love, and protection of all Master Masons withersoever dispersed. The eyes of the Fraternity are now upon you. Be just, be faithful, be true, and convince the world by your acts that on becoming a Master Mason you have become a better man. Retain, we entreat you, that goodness of heart, that purity of intention, and that love of virtue of which we think you now possessed, and of which this spotless vestment* wherewith you are now girded is at once the emblem, the badge, and the reward."

Nothing now remains to constitute you a member of North Hollywood Lodge number 542, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California, but to approach our Secretary's table and there sign its bylaws, which will subject you to its burdens and its responsibilities, as well as entitle you to its benefits and its privileges."

See? Not exactly colloquial language, is it? (* the 'spotless vestment' is the lambskin apron, which every Mason wears in lodge.)

This little speech comes at the end of a different little speech called the Charge, which was being performed for the first time by a brother of our lodge, who just became a Master Mason a few months ago and is really gung-ho, so I wanted to reward him by allowing him to perform the Charge in front of all the assembled muckety-mucks. He did it excellently, and when he was done I sat there in the audience, basking in the warm glow of pride I had for my lodge... and slowly realized that nothing was happening.

I looked up at the guy sitting in the Master's chair, and he was looking right back at me. Expectantly.

Sitting next to him was my District Inspector, who is the guy assigned by the Grand Lodge to several lodges in our area, to make sure our ritual is up to snuff. He was staring at me too, raising his eyebrows, asking me what the hold-up was.

And THEN I remembered that I was supposed to do the Master's Congratulation speech.

Well... f***.

I've already mentioned 'the actor's nightmare' but now I want you to visualize 'the deer in the headlights.' I froze, my eyes going wide and my mouth going dry. My balls crept up into my body cavity, trying to hide. I wanted to follow them up there.

I stood up, adjusted my apron and tuxedo, and shakily walked up to the guy who had just gone through a solemn and impressive ceremony to be raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. I cleared my throat and choked out "Brother ________, I congratulate you on your becoming a Master Mason." And that was it. No idea what was supposed to come next.

All of the Shriners know that speech by heart. So does our Inspector, and about half of the guys from my lodge who were there.

They all started whispering the next few words, which to me sounded like dead branches rubbing against a windowpane. Incredibly freaky.

My new brother was looking at me quizzically, wondering if my quivering hands or the blood oozing from my ears was part of the ceremony. I shook his hand, smiled, summoned my courage, and strongly declared "Brother _______, I have no idea whatsoever what I'm supposed to say next."

Everyone chuckled. Thank god.

I said a little phrase, which is a Master Mason's signal of distress, and one of the past Masters of my lodge was suddenly standing behind me, his hand on my shoulder, saying "With your permission, Worshipful, may I give the congratulation?" Everyone knew that he was bailing my ass out, but I thought it was incredibly classy of him to phrase it that way.

I nodded and somehow made it back to my seat without passing out. The past Master performed the congratulation flawlessly, and the ceremony was over. After we closed the lodge and were having refreshments downstairs, everybody gently joshed me about it, letting me know they weren't offended by the fact that I am an incompetent Master of my lodge. :)

So. That was my evening last night. How was yours?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go memorize that damn Congratulation so well that I will never forget it again.

Republished with permission of W. Bro. Steve Barr

Image: W. Bro. Steve Barr, North Hollywood Lodge No. 542

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  1. Oh, man, can I identify with this!

    This past February, we were having a Fellowcraft Degree. I am the Senior Deacon and as the Masons here will know, The SD has a huge part in the second half of the Degree.

    I had a fever of over 100deg F. For weeks I had tried to get the "long form" memorized. I could not and had to do the "short form". I still don't remember too much about it....


  2. My usual verbal shorthand when I find myself in such distress is to say, "Who am I? Who are you? And what are all of you doing in my living room at this time of the night?"

    We used to have secrets.

    Now we have Alzheimer's.

  3. Well, we've all been there; done that! I view it as part of the experience that makes us a better person and a Mason.


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