Henry checked his watch as he was opening the door to the Lodge. 12:05. He hated to be late, even if it were just a few minutes. Sure, it was only a practice, but he prided himself on the efficiency of his rehearsals. They started and ended when they were supposed to, and he worked hard to keep everyone on task while they were there. He knew that the younger guys were scheduled more tightly than he had been when progressing through the chairs, and as a consequence he tried to be respectful of their time, even if it meant giving a gentle scolding to the Brethren who arrived after the appointed hour.
He truly couldn’t figure out how today’s men manage to do all that they do. He watched in wonder a few weeks earlier as Dylan showed him that he could pay his electric bill, book a hotel for his upcoming business trip, and download the newest Dan Brown book, all right from his phone. He even laughed when Dylan tapped the phone with an overly-grand showman’s flair, proclaiming, “And to top it off, I just ordered us a pizza. It will be here by the time practice is over,” adding with a wink, “I hope you like pepperoni, old man.”
The rocky start to their friendship was barely a memory. Now the two of them met at least a couple of days a week to go over ritual, talk about Dylan’s upcoming year as Worshipful Master, or just to talk. Their favorite meeting place, weather permitting, was the lake on the campus of the tech company where Dylan worked. They typically walked the half-mile circuit around the lake twice, Dylan echoing lines of ritual as Henry fed them to him. After the walk, they would find an open bench and talk until Dylan had to get back to work.
Henry was proud of the man and leader that Dylan was becoming, and today he was delighted to be greeted by Dylan’s easy laugh echoing from the Lodge room as he walked into the building. These are good kids, he thought to himself as he hung his jacket. But as the laughter subsided and the conversation continued, his delight faded.
“I didn’t even know you could get a suit with lapels that wide,” someone said, the whole group laughing in reply.
Another quickly retorted, “His suit is easily twenty years older than Dylan.” Another chorus of laughter.
“I was going to ask him to join the line, but I’m afraid he’d show up in a powder blue tux.” More laughter.
Henry knew immediately that they were talking about Roger, their newest Entered Apprentice. How ironic, Henry thought, that all these men who were here to practice for the conferral of Roger’s Fellowcraft degree were instead gossiping about him.
The attention then turned to another Brother, and the attacks were just as mean spirited.
Henry was furious, but he quickly composed himself and entered the Lodge room. “My being late doesn’t give you the right to sit around and gossip. Pair up and go over your individual parts. Dylan and I are going for a walk. I want to go over it with him one last time before we start.”
Dylan rose to leave. The shortness of Henry’s tone told him a lesson was coming.
“Grab your coat. It’s chilly,” Henry said.
In more ways than one, Dylan thought.
Dylan was pulling on his down vest as they left the Lodge and headed to the walking trail that abutted the Lodge property. The strong wind made Dylan thankful that he heeded Henry’s advice. “Don’t you want yours?” he asked Henry.
“I’ll be fine. Too bad you couldn’t afford one with sleeves,” Henry mumbled as he bent and picked a stick up from off the trail.
Dylan wanted to laugh at the comment, but knew he shouldn’t. “That’s the style these days,” was all he could muster.
Henry dug deep into his pocket and pulled out a penknife. He whittled in silence for what to Dylan seemed like an eternity.
“We’re not out here to go over ritual, are we?” Dylan asked.
Henry looked at Dylan with a raised eyebrow and whittled another minute before he spoke. “What do you know about your Brother, Roger?”
“I don’t know. He seems nice enough, I guess,” he said. “Obviously not a sharp dresser,” he added, simultaneously trying to lighten the mood and to get Henry to his point. Dylan was being tortured on purpose, and a big part of him knew he deserved it.
They walked without a word. “It’s not that big of a deal. I won’t do it again,” he said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Dylan took the profession of Masonry seriously, and in his heart, he saw this as an opportunity for personal growth. The words of the Closing Charge echoed in his head: You have promised to remind him in the most tender manner of his failings, and aid in his reformation. He wasn’t sure how tender Henry would be, but he knew with absolute certainty that he would be a better man at the end of this walk.
“Brother Roger joined the Marines after we were attacked on September 11th. For two years, he put himself in harm’s way for you and me. While he was serving his country in Afghanistan and Iraq, his parents were killed when their house caught on fire while they slept. He came home and spent the last six years working two jobs to put his younger siblings through college. Once they finished, he was able to cut back to 60 hours each week, and he began taking classes himself. He wants to get a business degree.
“He told me he joined the Masons for two reasons. First, he thought they could teach him to be a better man.” Henry chuckled. “Think about that. Two combat tours. Six years working without rest to take care of his little brother and sister, and he still thinks we can make him better.”
Dylan felt terrible. He looked over at Henry. The wind was whipping his white hair and beard so fiercely that, for a moment, he reminded him of Charlton Heston as Moses.
“You said he joined for two reasons. What was the second?” he asked his mentor. He already felt so terrible that he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.
They walked to the crest of the hill and stopped. From the top of the trail, they could see for miles. Henry stood silently and whittled. The wind buffeted them from behind and carried the shavings several feet away before letting them fall to the ground. Finally, he answered. “The second reason,” he said, “was that he wanted to remember what is what like to have a family again.”
Dylan’s eyes welled up with tears. How could he have been so insensitive?
Another strong gust caused Henry to shiver. “Probably should have brought my coat. Can I borrow yours?” Dylan nodded and handed his vest over to Henry.
Henry took it from him, but instead of putting it on, he plunged his penknife into the nylon shell and cut a long gash from top to bottom. He shook it violently over his head, and the sky in front of them filled with tufts of goose down, swirling in eddies high into the air. Soon the sky before them was as white. It looked for all the world like they were in the middle of a blizzard.
“What are you doing,” Dylan yelled, “that’s my coat!”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Henry said. “We’ll just go get the down and put it back in the vest. It’ll be as good as new.”
“You’re out of your mind. It’s gone, and we’ll never get it back. Heck, some of it is still fifty feet over our heads,” Dylan said, point up into the sun.
“Isn’t that what you said about your gossip earlier? No big deal? Well, just like these feathers are riding the wind and can never be returned to the vest, every unkind word or belittling remark, once uttered, can never really be gathered back into your mouth. They are there forever, and they damage, even if only slightly, your Brother’s name, reputation, or worse yet, his sense of self worth.”
They stood for a long time without a word. Dylan could still see feathers riding the breeze. He thought about all the times he had been unkind to others, even if he was only trying to be funny. He thought about Brother Roger and tried to imagine what it would be like to have that kind of responsibility at such a young age. He couldn’t take back what he said, but he knew he would never act that way again.
Henry put his arm around Dylan. “What do I owe you for the coat, kid,” he asked, a large grin consuming his whole face.
“Not nearly what I owe you for the lesson, old man. Let’s get back to the Lodge. I want to make sure Roger gets my best Degree. He deserves it.”
“And that’s what he’ll get from you. You’re his Brother, after all.”