It was my privilege last week to visit not one but two lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of New York, both of which meet in the magnificent Grand Lodge building on West 23rd Street in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.
I toured the Grand Lodge building in 2007, while still waiting to take the first degree, and although I had done some reading and knew something about the arrangement and significance of the furniture in each lodge room, I was still very much an outsider.
When I stepped into the anteroom of the Ionic room last night before the meeting of St. John's Lodge No. 1, there was a palpable charge of anticipation about the room that simply wasn't there when I walked around it as a profane tourist 3 1/2 years ago. The pre-ritual ritual of Brothers filing into their lodge and greeting one another warmly is the same whether you're in a dense city or in a remote country lodge, and it's the same whether you're a member or a Brother traveling in a foreign country.
What we do is profoundly special. How many other organizations give you the ability to walk into a room as a complete stranger in a faraway city at the start of the evening and part with bear-hugs at the end of the night? When it's done right, Freemasonry is just an amazing thing. As every Entered Apprentice is told, it conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance, but too often Brothers never set foot outside of their district, or even their own lodge. Even as a dedicated officer or active Brother, it's far too easy to get worn down by the grind of nuts-and-bolts Freemasonry and the petty intrigues of your local Masonic community.
When you travel both literally and Masonically, you experience a fascinating juxtaposition. Physically you find yourself hundreds or thousands of miles from your home, friends, and family. Even if it's a place you've been before, it's not home. You're out of your element, on your own... but if you find a lodge in that foreign place, you will be met with slight guardedness which quickly gives way to sincere fraternal affection once you're duly examined to the Lodge's satisfaction.
Once the lodge is tyled and the meeting starts, you realize that it doesn't matter where you are. A well-governed lodge at work exists out of time and space, and distinctions of geography aren't important. It's an important reminder of the universality of Freemasonry, and a great way to recharge your Masonic batteries.