Monday, May 11, 2009

That Which Was Lost

I've known for some time that my paternal great, great, great grandfather was a Freemason. A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me to do a bit of research in hopes of finding out what lodge(s) he belonged to.

To my surprise, I learned that he was a charter member of the lodge here in town in 1866 - the lodge to which I had already applied for affiliation only a few weeks earlier. That was the only lodge to which the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had a record of him belonging, and given that he was 68 years old when it was chartered I contacted the Grand Lodge of Vermont
to see if they had any record of him having joined while living there earlier in the 1800's.

I learned that he joined a lodge in Caledonia county by demit in 1855, but unfortunately there was no record of which lodge he had demitted from, so I still don't know where he was entered, passed, and raised. I wonder if this may be due in part to the aftermath of the Morgan affair, during which time the Grand Lodge of Vermont itself went dark.

In light of these very specific details of my ancestor's Masonic activities I find myself simultaneously exhilarated and saddened.

When I first became interested in joining the Masons, I was wary of the back-slapping, back-room, good-ole-boy network type of bonding which I worried might be in store. While I have encountered some Brothers who seem to place more meaning on simply belonging to a private club than on the tenets of our profession, my personal experience is usually that a man being an active Freemason usually speaks volumes about his character. It serves as a kind of shorthand in much the same way that our symbols are shorthand for much deeper concepts.

Knowing that he was a Mason gives me a surprisingly strong sense of kinship and friendship with this man whom I previously knew only as a small photograph taken some 140 years ago. While the rituals have doubtless been streamlined in the interim, either one of us could sit down next to the other in Lodge and follow along.

Of course, shared experience as a means of bonding is not unique to Freemasonry. There are any number of father-son traditions that get handed down across the years; participation in a particular sport, military service, attendance of a particular private school or college, and so on. The thing that I find so very compelling about the shared experience of the Craft with my great, great, great grandfather is that underneath all of the more superficial aspects of Freemasonry, the goals of our shared profession are so lofty, fundamental, and universal.

The tinge of sadness comes from the knowledge that he's a Brother I won't get to know in this life. Being directly related to him provides a vivid context in which to consider the man, but when you start to consider all of the interesting worthy Brothers who have gone before us the world over, they can seem like sand through the hourglass.

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