I attended a Master Mason degree last night. The candidate fainted twice (he hadn’t eaten much that day), which caused the degree to last so long that I had to leave early to pick Peggy up at the airport. As I left through the kitchen, I sorrowfully eyed the homemade pies that awaited everyone else, and would have had a slice had I known that the plane was going to be two hours late due to thunderstorms over Colorado.
Most of the people who gave me the Master Mason degree are dead. One of my most vivid and imposing memories is of the master of my lodge approaching me out of the dim light, “by the step, with the sign, and under the due guard of a Master Mason.” If, when I come to die, my final vision is of that moment, I will be content. Robert Medill was his name, and I attended his funeral a few months after I completed my degrees. He was one of two men who served as my teachers.
The other was Bud Stump, a professional leather craftsman. I learned the degree as he worked—and smoked—in his tiny shop with its low roof. The smoke was a torment, and I seldom visited Bud after I completed my degrees. I regret this because I was very fond of him. I did complain about the smoke, and he did promise to cut back, but I couldn’t tell that he did. He had been a chain smoker since World War II, and he still limped and was in pain from that war. When he died, his wife soon followed. I knew of her devotion to him, and was not surprised that she could not survive alone.
Peggy was sick the whole time she was gone and for two weeks before she left. She has seen two doctors and had a CAT scan, but still there is no diagnosis. I was so anxious for her welfare and so eager to see her again that I very nearly didn’t go to lodge last night, but, after I got there, I realized that lodge was exactly what I needed. It is truly an altered environment, unlike anyplace else.
I little enjoyed the annual meeting of the IOOF Grand Lodge of Oregon, but my home lodge votes to send me from time to time, and I feel compelled to go. This was its 150th session.
Most people dress formally for the social events, but I only wore a suit. In all my 57 years, I have yet to wear a tux. As for the dinner utensils, I knew that I was supposed to work my way from the outside in or the inside out, but I couldn’t remember which, and then there was that fork at the top of the plate. I find my ignorance of such things to be more amusing than annoying.
My father never wore a tux either, and I never saw him in a suit except when he was in one of his churchgoing phases. He would not have joined a lodge; but if he had joined, he would not have attended Grand Lodge; but if he had attended Grand Lodge, he would have masked his social terrors with anger before he stomped out. I am very glad that I am not like my father.
When I went on antidepressants in 1996, my own social fears greatly diminished. When I stopped taking them thirteen months ago, I worried that my fears would return, but they have not. I have two explanations. One is that I have declared myself too old to stoop to the indignity of worrying about what people think. The other is that I don’t consider people sufficiently important for their opinions to matter.
I went to work on household projects within an hour of getting home, and have scarcely stopped in the three days since. I did attend the Masonic Philosophical Society on Saturday and my regular Masonic lodge tonight. Tomorrow night is Odd Fellows, and then there is a Master Mason degree on Thursday. If I didn’t allow myself such indulgences, my time would be taken up almost entirely by chores, and I would become resentful. This house is already like anvil tied to my neck. I tell myself that I should appreciate it. After all, I could own nothing but the clothes on their back and not enough of those. Yet, as I stood looking out the den window today at the far corner of the house, it seemed as distant and demanding as the hull of a large ship.
Saturday, I went to the Natural History Museum for I.D. day. I showed a boxful of rocks to two geologists, and was confounded by their inability to identify many of the same rocks that had stumped me. I knew that chemical and microscopic analysis was sometimes necessary, but I had no idea how often.
I also showed a box of arrowheads to two archaeologists. I didn’t expect to learn much because some of my collection came from Georgia and some from Mississippi, and I didn’t even know which was which. To my delight, I was told that I had only a few arrowheads but a great many spear heads, and that this dated much of my collection to before the invention of the bow and arrow, making it thousands of years old rather than hundreds as I had believed.
I find it hard to accept that really old objects don’t always look really old. Of course, I pick up rocks that were formed tens of millions of years ago all the time, yet who would know it by looking at them? Clearly, rocks age better than we do.
I dreamed last night that I had just awakened from a nightmare. Later, I awakened from dreaming that I had awakened. This wasn’t my first such experience with dreams within dreams. Once I gave myself the pinch test to verify that I was awake. I passed the test, but later awakened. Such dreams leave me confused about what being awake means.
I heard a former South African political prisoner say that he survived prison by “becoming a zombie,” and was overwhelmed by such simple things as color when he got out. Noting that people who had never been to prison were practically dead to color, he concluded that they were like the zombie he had been in prison, and that he was one of the few who were awake.
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep - while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
A Dream Within a Dream
Edgar Allen Poe