"You Masons seem to be afraid of death." That startling observation came from an elderly woman, the widow of one of our 33° Brothers who had passed away several years before. She had called me, the new Secretary of our Valley, to see if I would stop by her house to pick up a donation. She was continuing a tradition her husband had started, that of giving a substantial contribution to our temple preservation foundation during the holidays.
I told her I would be happy to stop by, and she greeted me warmly. She wrote out the check, I gave her a receipt, and we made small talk for a while. Then she made that unexpected comment: "You Masons seem to be afraid of death."
"Why do you think that?" I asked.
She replied that her husband had suffered a long illness before his death, one that kept him bedridden for many months. Very few of his Masonic Brothers came to visit, she said, and he missed their company a great deal. I lowered my eyes a moment, thinking of how difficult it has always been for me to visit the sick.
"I'm not sure it's fear of death," I said pensively. "I think it has more to do with not knowing if your visit comes at a good time, not knowing how long to stay or what to talk about or when to leave—especially what to talk about."
"Well," she replied, "You can call first, and if you don't want to stay long, just say you're between appointments. You can say, 'I've got a few minutes before I have to be downtown. Would it be convenient if I stopped by for a bit?' That way you can set your own time limits, and if it's a bad time, you'll find out by calling first."
I was impressed by the common sense of her advice. That took care of most of the reasons for my reluctance.
"And as for something to talk about," she continued, "for heaven's sake, talk about Masonry! Talk about what is going on at the Lodge or Temple, about what your Masonic Brothers are doing, about the leaky roof or the new chairs or the new Candidates. Talk about the Degree work. You are blessed to have such a wonderful thing in common!"
I thanked her for her insight and promised to pass it along. I guess I just did.
Are we afraid of death? As Masons we are taught repeatedly not to fear death, which Albert Pike called "the grand mystery of existence." We are taught that there are far worse things than death. We are taught to live and labor that we may "pass with serene, unwavering confidence through the sunset gates." We are taught that all mortal things face an inevitable doom, but that our spirits will live forever.
Ill. Jim Tresner, 33°, G.C., in his book Vested in Glory, talks about the Scottish Rite teachings regarding death in his synopsis of the Fifth Degree. He says: "The death imagery in the Rite is almost always an affirmation of life." But when we are faced, not with death so much as with dying, perhaps we don't know what to do. My own apprehensions were calmed by this widow's sensible advice.
"My husband missed his Masonic Brothers so much," she told me. We should never let that kind of thing happen because of our reluctance to face the final days of a Brother's life.
J. Morrow Hall