“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 firstname.lastname@example.org with that request and I will publish them without your personal information.