Monday, February 17, 2014

The Happy Reflection Consequent on a Well-Spent Life

It is perhaps appropriate that my first post in nearly 3 years is on the subject of age.  On seeing how long it has been since I posted, my immediate thought was, "we cannot without astonishment behold the little particles contained within this machine; how they pass away almost imperceptibly, and yet, to our surprise, in the short space of an hour, they are all exhausted."

Much has happened during those three years; I am currently serving in my second term as Master of my Lodge - a subject for a completely different post, which will probably wait until after I am relieved from that position.  I also find myself no longer comfortably in my mid-30s but nearing my 40th birthday.  I like to think that I don't obsess about milestones as much some, but that number, 40, is sobering.  During the last year or so, when I realize that some remembered event happened not "about a year ago" but ten years ago, the realization is accompanied by a small feeling of panic at how those years have slipped away, and how likely the next 10, 20, or 30 will slip away just as quickly.  Again, probably a subject for a separate post - one that I may not bother to write because the topic of "white male entering middle age" is a horse that been beaten to death, buried, exhumed, and whacked a few more times for good measure.

For the last month or so I have been preparing to confer the Master Mason degree, which deals quite a bit with the topics of mortality and what we leave behind when we die.  Amidst all this reflection on the passage of time, aging, and death, it was a pleasure to read Roger Angell's New Yorker essay, This Old Man.  Angell is 93 years old, and his essay is a poignant but encouraging look at many of these questions.  Particularly relevant to Master Masons is this paragraph, where he talks about the list of acquaintances he once knew who have died before him:
My list of names is banal but astounding, and it’s barely a fraction, the ones that slip into view in the first minute or two. Anyone over sixty knows this; my list is only longer. I don’t go there often, but, once I start, the battalion of the dead is on duty, alertly waiting. Why do they sustain me so, cheer me up, remind me of life? I don’t understand this. Why am I not endlessly grieving?
I have not been a Mason for very long; barely six years.  Yet in that time I have attended the funerals of a number of well-loved Brothers... some were elderly Brothers who departed after lengthy illnesses.  Their death was sad, but also came with a sense of relief for their families and Masonic Brothers. One was a first cousin, twice removed; a man who was like the kid brother my grandfather never had, always a delight to talk to at family gatherings... I had no idea he was a Brother until I saw the program the day before his Memorial service.  It was my privilege to join his lodge in conducting an evergreen service.  One was for a Brother, a pillar of his lodge, whose death at age 42 was a complete shock to all of us.  I can't say that I knew any of them very well (even my cousin, to my chagrin) but when you see how much they meant to their families, and the Brothers who knew them well, that almost doesn't matter.

One of the most valuable things about Masonry is the way it provides us not only with a framework of symbols to help us deal with the death of friends and loved ones, but a continuum of Brotherhood across the years, decades and centuries.   It teaches us, both in its lessons as well as its practice, that death is a part of life, and that the best we can do is to make the most of the life we are given, and to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us.