Monday, December 2, 2013

As Plain as the Nos on our Faces

It was Dylan’s first day at his new job. You remember Dylan. He was the young man who had some trouble with the old Past Master at his Lodge. (The Modern Vitruvian, "Perspectives," June, 2013). He was so excited to be here. He had dreamed of landing a job like this from the day he started college. 

This place was the place to work. He had heard stories of how incredible it was there. They had a relaxed dress code, an onsite gym, childcare (not that he needed that yet), and the cafeteria – well, that was legendary. More like a four star restaurant from what he had heard, and the executive chef had been hired away from one of the city’s top restaurants.

He arrived early that morning and began walking across the campus to his building. This really is like a college campus, he thought. He marveled at working for a company this big. There were people everywhere. Business was clearly being conducted by the four people huddled around a laptop on one of the benches by the duck pond. It was even obvious that that the group of runners that passed him was actually in the midst of a strategy session. I’m going to love it here.

He arrived at his office and Sharon showed him to his desk. It was Sharon who had interviewed and hired Dylan. She was Department Manager, whatever that meant, and so far, the only person Dylan knew by name. As she escorted him through the open workspace she cleared her throat. Satisfied that she had everyone’s attention, she said, “Everyone, this is Dylan. He’s the newest member of the team.” He was greeted with an assortment of waves, smiles and hellos, but soon, everyone turned his attention back to his work.

“Here we are,” Sharon said. “Make yourself comfortable. You can take lunch whenever you’d like. The cafeteria is in Building Four. They’ll have veal piccatta today. It’s amazing.” She flashed a smiled as she turned on her heel, and Dylan took his seat.

The morning passed rather quickly, and Dylan’s stomach informed him that it was time to eat. He asked a few of his new office mates if they wanted to join him, but they had other plans. He made his way to Building Four and followed his nose to the cafeteria. Dark oak paneling, crystal glasses, and waitstaff in bowties really did make this feel like a four star experience. The only things that seemed odd to Dylan were that the long tables were covered in linen tablecloths, and that he could sit anywhere he wanted. Well, that, and the fact that he was carrying a tray of veal piccatta, mushroom risotto, and sugar snap peas instead of the requisite club sandwich and chips.

He scanned the room looking for a place to sit. Nearly everyone was massed in groups, laughing and talking. One or two looked up at him for a second before returning to their conversations, but most paid no attention to Dylan as he wandered around, anxious to dig in to his meal. Finally, he spotted a table at the far end that was empty. Well, I guess I’m eating alone until I make some friends here.As he was hurrying to claim the empty table, he saw a man who was sitting alone. The man smiled at Dylan as he passed. The smile was so genuine that it made Dylan forget about the empty table at the far end of the room and stop short. “Mind if I join you,” Dylan asked.

“Please do. I’m Marcus,” the man said, offering his hand. As Dylan took his seat, he sensed nearly every eye had turned his way. As ridiculous as it seemed, all those people who wouldn’t even look up earlier were now focused on him. Only my imagination, he told himself.

“I haven’t seen you here before. What do you do,” Marcus asked.

“Design and Marketing Department. It’s my first day. You?”

“This and that,” Marcus said. “I’m the president.”

Dylan felt his face flush. He suddenly realized why everyone had been watching him so closely. “Marcus? Like Marcus Christensen? I. . .I’m really sorry I bothered you. I had no idea.” Dylan knew who Marcus Christensen was. Everyone did. He was a legend - one of the youngest men ever to make the Forbes 500. Dylan got up to move. He was mortified.

“Stay, please. I could use the company. I almost always eat alone. Everyone is afraid to sit with me.”

Dylan stayed, and had one of the most enjoyable conversations he could remember. Marcus was a great guy – down to earth, easy to talk to. When he finally rose to leave, Marcus asked, “So what was it that made you join me?”

“Well. When I looked around the room, everyone seemed so shut off. Their body language, their faces, everything about them said no. You made eye contact. You smiled.” He paused before adding, “I guess they had NO faces and you had a YES face.”

“Thanks,” Marcus said. “Same time tomorrow?”

“Sure thing,” Dylan replied, certain that it wasn’t really a question.


As Modern Vitruvians, we’ve all been in a situation like that. The fact is that we have probably played all of those parts at one time or another. We’ve been the outsider, the welcoming stranger, and truthfully, we have also been the one wearing the NO face.

The next time you’re at Lodge, there will probably be someone new there. What will you do? Will you be caught up in a conversation with a few of the Officers? Maybe, but you can open the circle and allow the new Brother in. While you’re having dessert after the next meeting at the Valley, will you smile at the unfamiliar Brother, or will you let him walk by without acknowledging him, your indifference as plain as the NO on your face?

I already know what you’ll do. You’re a Modern Vitruvian. You’ll be warm and welcoming. You will treat him the way you would want to be treated.

I’ll see you at the Valley. I’ll be sure to be wearing my best YES face.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Deep and Lasting Impressions

We'll be washed and buried one day, my girl,
And the time we were given will be left for the world. . .
So let the memories be good for those who stay.
Mumford and Sons, “Winter Winds

In today’s electronically connected world where even instant gratification can seem to take forever, it is sometimes difficult to think of one’s legacy as more than his Facebook wall or Twitter feed.  If I am honest with myself, I want to believe that I am far more than the photo of the shrimp and grits I posted from my trip to Myrtle Beach (they were spectacular), or a clever hashtag (#cleverhashtag).
This month’s issue of The Rite News features an article on the Gettysburg Address written by Brother Todd Ballenger (“272,” p. 11).  To be clear, the Gettysburg Address was written by Abraham Lincoln, while the article “272” was written by Brother Ballenger.  It is excellent (I’m speaking of the article this time). In fact, if you haven’t already done so, read it now. I will wait . . .
I told you it was excellent.

Brother Ballenger tells us that Lincoln’s words reinterpreted the Constitution and made freedom everyone’s responsibility. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”  The brave men who fought at Gettysburg were not doing it for glory – both sides were fighting for a cause they deeply believed in – but our liberty is their legacy. One need only drive through the shadows of the stone monuments in the park, or the cemetery where the address was delivered, to be reminded of how much we owe to those who have served our country.
Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest structure in the world, took ten years to complete. Contrast that with the Gothic cathedrals that our operative counterparts built. Notre Dame took nearly 90 years from start to finish! Think about that for a moment. The men who worked on the foundation probably never saw the structure rise more than a few feet off the ground. It was common to have several generations of a family work on the same project, each seeing it in a drastically different form than the others.

Gutzon Borglum dedicated the last 14 years of his life to the shaping the rough granite of Mount Rushmore into the faces of four of our greatest Presidents. (Look at that, Lincoln, statues and stonemasons all coming together in one story. Oh, Borglum was a Freemason as well! You’re welcome.) He lived long enough to see the faces completed, and on his death his son, Lincoln, continued to work on the project. Originally, the presidents were to be carved to the waist, but funding was shut off and the project finalized with just the busts. Borglum, too, left good memories for those who stayed behind.
So, you say your cathedral building skills are a bit rusty and you can’t find a large piece of exposed granite you can (legally) carve a likeness into? Fear not, modern Vitruvian -  there are plenty of ways for you to leave a deep and lasting impression.

Start by being a good man, one that others would be proud to call friend. Let the working tools help you. Be a man of character (plumb), treat everyone justly (square), and control your own behavior (compasses).

Next, get involved, either with your Blue Lodge or your Scottish Rite Valley. I assure you that there is a place for you here whatever your talent or interest might be. (If you don’t believe me, write me at and I will help you find it.) We are all keepers of Freemasonry’s sacred fire and as such, we have a duty to help her thrive for those yet to come.

You don’t need to be a soldier, sculptor, or stonemason to leave your own deep and lasting impression. Be a man, a Mason, and a mentor and you will have done your part. The time we were given will be left for the world. . . Let the memories be good for those who stay.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. ~ Hugh Downs

Dylan was excited to have finally joined Lodge. 
His fascination with the Masons began when he was in junior high school and saw the movie, National Treasure.  Dylan never believed that he would someday guard an enormous stash of gold, but still there was something about the square and compasses, the feeling of belonging to a true family, and the antiquity of the order that beckoned him.  He wasn’t put off by the myriad of websites that said Masons controlled the media, faked the moon landing, knew the secrets of Area 51, or unknowingly worshipped the Devil.  In fact, the idea that you could unknowingly worship the Devil made him laugh every time.  He pictured unsuspecting men in their homes praying before they went to bed, while outside on the roof, evil Masons in their aprons hijacked the prayers as they rose to God and carted them off to the Devil.
Dylan was raised six months ago, and with few exceptions, Masonry was what he expected.  He learned his work and attended the practices and meetings.  Every chance he got, he told the guys about his ideas for making the meetings cool.  He suggested having a really nice meal – surf and turf – before the meeting in June, since they were inviting the ladies. 
Henry, one of the old Past Masters just laughed.  It’s strawberry night, he thought to himself.  One other time, Dylan asked if they could act out one of the Masonic plays he came across in an old book in their Lodge library.  “That’s not a library kid, that’s a bookshelf, and this isn’t a theater, it’s a Lodge,” Henry said. And with that the debate was closed.
Dylan had no idea why Henry was like that.  Henry reminded him of an old school teacher who kept punishing kids for even the smallest violation of the rules.  Here it seemed, though, that those rules were a secret known only to Henry.  Dylan was frustrated. Would it kill us to have dinner and strawberries?  Why do I even bother with this bunch of old guys if they’re happy just doing the same old tired things year after year?  I can just as easily stay at home if I want to feel ignored.
Henry was a Warrant Member of the Lodge.  He was the second man to serve as its Worshipful Master.  He remembered the years in the 60s and 70s when so many men joined that the Lodge could barely keep up with the work.  Back then, they had so many active members that it took twelve years to become Worshipful Master. 
When Henry’s son turned twenty one, he handed Henry a petition.  Henry signed it eagerly, his eyes pooling with the proud tears of a father.  The most fulfilling moment of his life by far, though, was when he made his son a Master Mason.  That excitement was short-lived, however, as his son didn’t make the Lodge a priority.  Henry joined after the war to keep sharing in the kind of Brotherhood he felt while he fought in Europe.  Junior didn’t care about that, and he preferred spending the little free time he had with his bowling league.
Henry was bitter, and that bitterness only deepened over the years.  Sure, he had good friends who were Masons, but a lot of them were dead now.  Lodge wasn’t as well attended and membership was way down.  Now this new kid wanted to get rid of strawberry night and replace it with a dinner that was going to bankrupt the Lodge.  Plays? he thought.  What is that about?  What’s wrong with having the game commissioner come in and talk about deer hunting?  That always brought the guys out in the good old days.
The irony of the story is that Dylan and Henry, with their almost diametrically opposite views, are more similar than they appear.  Their attitudes are shaped by their experiences.  Dylan is the youngest of five.  His brothers and sisters excel at everything they put their minds to.  To the disappointment of his father, Dylan is more of a dreamer, and spends most of his time dreaming in the shade of his siblings’ achievements.  Lodge is supposed to be a place where he is an equal, and Henry’s snide comments make him feel anything but.  And though Henry will not admit it, he is heartbroken that his only son does not see in the Fraternity what he sees.  His son’s departure coincided with the beginning of the Lodge’s long and slow decline.  Henry, though only subconsciously, marries the two into one problem.
Dylan sees Henry as a disappointed father.  Henry sees Dylan as an ungrateful son.
Too often, our attitudes get in the way of good friendships. 
If you have been in Lodge more than a couple of years, you know that guy.  He may be a Henry that is so set in his ways that nothing new is worth considering, or he’s a Dylan, and wants to turn everything on its ear.  More likely than not, he is some shade of grey between those two extremes, but our own predispositions force him into one of those two categories.
As Modern Vitruvians, what are we to do when faced with those behaviors?  
First, we should strive to come to a better understanding of the men we call our Brothers.  Meeting on the level is more than forgetting class, rank or station when we are in Lodge.  It requires us to try to see the world through the eyes of those with whom we interact.  We need to walk a mile in their shoes, not as an offensive tactic where we put on their shoes, run over rocky terrain, and then mock them for not keeping up, but rather as a sympathetic act where we seek to walk the peaks and valleys just as they have.  Acting on the square means that we should extend grace in abundance, knowing that we, too, may be in need of it at some point.  I’ve recently realized that trying to see things from another’s perspective has often helped me to change my own attitudes.  More and more I’ve been trying to see (or seek) the good in everyone.  It is true that each of us in our turn requires varying amounts of seeking before the seeing can take place, but it’s always there. 
Secondly, we need to become more aware of our own attitudes.   The words we speak (or fail to speak) and our tone of voice are obvious indicators of how we feel about someone.  Posture, facial expressions, body language and general demeanor are more subtle, but easily discernible indicators of our feelings too.  Sometimes changing someone’s attitude toward you is as easy as changing your own.  If you had a lousy day, remind yourself of how fortunate you are to be spending time with your Brothers.  If you drive to Lodge exhausted and world-weary, make an effort to feel the energy of the group and let it heal your soul.  You will be surprised at how much a positive mind-set can change you.  Attitude is everything.  Attitude is the difference between cleaning the litter box and raking the Zen garden.
So you’re probably wondering about Dylan and Henry.  They’re going to be okay.  They are reading this column right now – just like you.  The next time they come together it will be with a new understanding – both of themselves and of each other.  Dylan will ask Henry to help him plan some of his programs which he will gladly do.  Henry will begin to see Dylan as the son that loves Lodge as much as he does.   And Henry is going to bring his wife to Lodge for surf and turf (and strawberries, of course).  They will have one of the most enjoyable night’s that either can remember, and will be sure to tell Dylan just that.  Dylan will be grateful for the affirmation.
As Modern Vitruvians, you will meet a Dylan or a Henry at some point.  When you do, try to see the world as they do, rather than through the narrow keyhole of your own experiences.   And remember to be positive.  I promise you that next time I see you in Lodge I will smile, even if I had a lousy day.  I will smile because, in spite of whatever life was giving me earlier, I am about to be blessed with the good fortune of spending time in a place of peace with you, my Brothers. 
I shall close now, for I have other duties which call.  I have to get the scoop, er, I mean rake.  The cat is subtly reminding me that my Zen garden needs attention.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Staying for Dessert


“We’re meant to lose the people we love.  How else would we know how important they are to us?” ~ Mrs. Maple in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The observant reader of The Modern Vitruvian, and I would like to think there is no other kind, will note that this is the second consecutive column with a quote from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  I can assure you that I have already ejected that DVD from the player and will give it a rest for the foreseeable future. 
If the truth be told, I would have preferred never to have had the occasion to use the above epigraph, but the month of January has seen the passing of three men for whom Masonry was a way of life, and without whom, Masonry will not be the same.  The deaths of Illustrious Brothers Kielman and Faub of this Valley, and Bill Davenport, an active instructor and Past Master in my District have left me unsettled. 
I knew each of these men – my Brothers – to an extent, but not very deeply.  I had the chance to spend time with each of them within the last few weeks of their lives, and I keep wondering what I would have done differently had I known that our last conversation would be our final conversation.
One thing I know about myself is that I am obsessive about time.   I am constantly looking at my watch.  Even though I am trying to heed my own advice and take more time to appreciate The Space Between, I must fight to put the clock and the next task out of mind.    So had I been told that this was the last conversation, would I have given in when they insisted that I stay for dessert?  Talked a little longer even though I knew that I’d be exhausted the following morning?   Would I have asked them something deep?  What was their proudest moment?  Their biggest regret?  Would I have been brave enough to answer those questions if they had asked me?

Dessert?  It’s already 10:30.  If I don’t leave now, it’ll be after midnight before I get to bed.  I have an early day tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll just go home tonight and do dessert when the meeting is shorter or my schedule is lighter.
As I think about these Brothers and the countless others that I have known and loved and who are no longer with me, their faces appear to me just as real as if they were here in the room, and I long for one last conversation. 
To some I would say, “You know, we didn’t always agree on how to do things, but I always respected you.  The ways you challenged me made me grow as a man and a Mason.” 
I might thank others for their advice (solicited or otherwise) on how to play a role, deliver a line more effectively or gesture in a way that brings a character to life on the Scottish Rite stage.
To another, I might get comfortable in my chair and ask, “How was your granddaughter’s recital,” knowing fully that his eyes would begin to sparkle as he recounted her every graceful move in the five-year old’s ballet class as only a proud grandfather could.
Perhaps the conversation I would most like to have is with my grandfather.  “Pap,” I would start, “We never had the chance to sit in Lodge together, but I can never thank you enough for being the kind of man that made me want to join an organization you belonged to.  I hope I have made you proud.”
Those are conversations I can never have.  But surely there must be some lesson to be learned.  That is the mission of The Modern Vitruvian after all.
The next time you are in Lodge, look around at the faces that are there with you.  Is there a Brother with whom you should make amends?  Are you carrying around baggage from an old disagreement?  Did someone in the room change your life in a profound way?  Is he the reason you are a Mason?  Did he give you words of encouragement when you were about to quit?  I suspect that there is a face that comes to mind for each of those scenarios.
Now ask yourself what you would do if tonight’s conversation was the last you would have with that Brother.  Would you sit next to him instead of across the Lodge?  Would you try to heal the wound?  Would you thank him.  Tell him that he is important to you?  Would you look him in the eye and tell him that your life is better because he is in it?
Remember that “See you tomorrow” isn’t a legally binding contract, so do not leave unsaid those words that could heal, empower, uplift, encourage or comfort.  Mrs. Maple doesn’t have to be right.  We don’t need to lose the people we love to know how important they are.  Just imagine your Lodge – your life – without them in it and let them know they matter. 
And when the meeting is over, put away your watch. . .

And stay for dessert.


Note: I know that death and regret can be intensely personal.  I sat at this computer, eyes full of tears, as I wrote this story.  If you feel called, please share your stories: memories of your friends and loved ones who made a difference for you, conversations you should have had or the ones you did have and are thankful that you did.  If you would prefer that they remain anonymous, send them to me at with that request and I will publish them without your personal information.