Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Freemasonry: A Personal Perspective


Pekin (IL) Not a great speech, but
I made some really good friends.
I was very enthusiastic about the fraternity when I first joined in 2005, and I still am today, but early on, there was one part of Freemasonry that made me decidedly nervous.  Public speaking.  I was never able to do that, and so much of our work involves memorizing and reciting the ritual opening and closing of the lodge, and parts in the three degrees of Masonry.  Before I was raised, I about never got through the "proving up" where I had to go into open lodge with my mentor, and recite word for word what I had learned in the first two degrees in order to pass on to the last degree--Master Mason.  The idea alone of doing that would keep me up nights for week preceding those meeting dates--and there were nightmares, too, most involving me forgetting to wear my pants.  But I managed it--mostly because I trusted fully in my mentor and was able to focus on him instead of those watching.

All the ritual in Masonry is memorized word for word--and if you get one word wrong, Masons will notice.  It's a tradition that goes back a long ways, and it's important to our lodge to do ritual correctly.  Within a couple months of being raised, I was put in the Chaplain's chair, and I had two short prayers to memorize--one when we opened, and one when we closed the meeting.  I memorized them easily, but every month when the time came to give them--I choked.  I knew those words by heart, but I just couldn't seem to spit them out.  It was disappointing to me that I couldn't seem to do this in front of fifteen or twenty Masons that I had come to see as good friends.  

Speaking at a Past Master's Dinner
I really wanted to be involved in my lodge, but I knew early on, from the Chaplains chair, I'd never be able to do ritual or be an officer.  I had to find another way to be involved--some way to be involved without having to speak in front of a group.  One thing I always could do was write, so I decided once I got the idea to write the book Famous American Freemasons, that I would just stay behind the scenes and focus my enthusiasm on writing books about Freemasonry.  That's right, the original idea to write books was out of cowardice.  

Little did I know at the time that my book would do well, and I'd be invited to talk about it.  I sure hadn't thought it through very well to say the least.  The very first invitation to speak came from somebody I couldn't say no to.  My friend and Brother in Masonry, William J. Hussey.  He invited to speak after a dinner in Lawrenceville, Illinois.  He knew I had a fear of public speaking, and I'm convinced, he invited me to help me get over this fear I had.  

Drove to Chicago to do the first "big" interview--not a rousing
 success, but I learned a few things that served me well later on.
I spent a month writing a remarkable speech and practicing it.  I wrote all the key points out on numbered index cards, just like I learned to do--I didn't need them, but I knew how nervous I got, so I counted on them in the event I froze up.  During that three hour drive down to Southern Illinois, I practiced the speech over and over in the car--I had it nailed.  It was a little bigger group than I thought--maybe thirty.  No big deal--right?  I knew almost everyone there.  But I was nervous, and as Bill Hussey introduced me, I was nervously shuffling my hands--no, I was actually shuffling those carefully numbered index cards.  I got up there, and looked out at the thirty or so faces in the crowd, and couldn't remember even how the speech started--and the cards were of no help, because when I looked down at them, the card on top was the conclusion.  There is no doubt in my mind that speech was a disaster--a real mess.  I finally gave up on it.  I left the script I'd planned way later than I should have, and told two stories about my experiences in the Craft from the heart.  

I wish I'd done that sooner, because if I had, I could have saved a tragic failure.  On the long drive home I realized that.  But I also realized that my failure was actually a success.  I'd done it!  Success or failure, I'd done what always had scared me to death.  I stumbled, and mumbled my way through fifteen minutes of incoherent babbling, then left the speech behind and told two stories that obviously had an impact--because I've been asked to tell those two stories again and again--one day, I'll tell them both here.  

3 great books minus mediocre speaker = unexpected reward!
One of those hands is mine!  3 x 33 minutes afterwards.
I'd like to say I'm a great public speaker now--but I'm not.  But I can do it now, and I have--many times.  I've spoken in lodges, and I've spoken in Scottish Rite Valleys.  I've given a speech to the Illinois Lodge of Research (where oddly enough I'm now where I started in my lodge as Chaplain and am just as nervous today as I was then) and I've addressed the Illinois Council of Deliberation--gave them my great Fourth of July speech that wasn't so great.  I've learned chairs, and can spit out the ritual now (most of the time).  I've done some big parts and small in the Scottish Rite--thanks to great mentors and teachers that helped me learn them.  I've learned all the chairs as best as I could (some better than others), and been Master of my lodge--and that's the biggest part any Mason will ever be asked to take, and very little of that duty has anything to do with memorizing parts.  I may never be a great speaker or ritualist, but I know the more I try it, the better I'll get.  And I must be getting better at it, because I keep getting invited back.  I've got a ways to go to be good at it, but I'm no longer afraid of public speaking--and I'll get better each time.

Freemasonry's goal is to make good men better.  I can tell you from personal experience that it does.  Some of that improvement comes from the men we met.  Some of that comes from the values Masons believe are important.  Some of it comes from being able to use the things we're really good at--I'm a great manager, which is why I'm now Secretary of my lodge (for life).  And some of that comes from being given the opportunity to try many new things--just outside our comfort zone.  I've never once been chastised for doing a lackluster job, in fact, it's one of the few places I've ever found that rewards the effort more than the result. 

I've been told many times that I'd get out of Freemasonry what I put into it.  I agree with that, but I was offered an alternative view which I find even more meaningful--the Illustrious William J. Hussy, 33, my friend and Brother told me shortly after I joined the Scottish Rite, "Freemasonry is what you make of it."  I tend to agree with Bill Hussey.  You can never put into it what you get out of it.  It's more about charting your own path.  You'll never know what you're capable of until you try it.  You can sit on the sidelines of life, or you can play in the game--it'll scare you to death, but you'll walk away better from the experience.

Freemasonry is what you make of it.    

~TEC 

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful words from an amazing author....but I guess they were in print and not said out loud...Just kidding you Todd. You do a wonderful job & Freemasonry is blessed to have you. Mike & I were also blessed to be able the share our 33* emperience with you & Val. Pam B

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  2. Yeah, if I tried to say all this, it would turn into a disaster! :-) And that trip to Chicago is one I'll never forget.

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