(This article is a reprint from the "Midnight Mason" website. It was authored by Brother Michael Arce. He is a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy, New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Merry Christmas you, wonderful old Building and Loan. And Merry Christmas to you, Brother!
I'd like to think that before I was a Mason that I looked at life from multiple angles. Clearly, I was trying. I saw the Holidays as a time, a season, a single episode in the yet to be determined series that would become my life. It wasn't until I reached my 30s that I really got the meaning of Christmastime. I was thumbing through the TV guide one Christmas Eve, looking for something to watch during the downtime of putting the kids to bed before we prepared for Santa's arrival. My eye caught the title It's a Wonderful Life. Somehow I had made it this far in life without seeing the Holiday classic. I remember my father making a big deal when NBC started airing it in 1994. To me, it was an old black-and-white movie, I preferred 24-hours of The Christmas Story, anyway. Sorry Dad, I'll leave the nostalgia to you. But something was different that night. I decided to make the two hours and fifteen-minute commitment with a full bottle of wine. I had to be sure that the kids were really asleep, after all.
It's a Wonderful Life is part of my holiday routine. And every year when I sit down to watch it, something new in the film gets my attention. How Bedford Falls represents "Everytown, USA." The bridge scene, where even with the gritty black and white film, in your mind, you can see how deep that water is and imagine how cold it must be. Knowing the hidden pain in George Bailey's eyes every time something in his life goes wrong. The joy that causes his voice to crack when everyone in town comes to his aid. I find a quiet night, start the movie, and enjoy the experience. I get joy in discovering a point that makes the experience new.
This year, Clarence's line to George, "Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" caught my ear. It connected a few thoughts. The first is the section of the Fellowcraft degree charge that literally discusses our personal contact with others, the influence we have on those who share our circle. How as Masons, we strive to be charitable, honest, and humble. Whether that is bell ringing for the Salvation Army on a cold, winter night for a few hours, collecting coats for the homeless, buying Christmas presents for those less fortunate, serving warm meals in soup kitchens, or making time to connect with those who are alone this time of year - it's rewarding to know that we have Brothers who give time to make the Holidays merry for those in need. We realize that our work is to bring light to dark places. And even if I don't get a chance to meet them or learn the details of their work, these men share the same title of Brother as I do, and that makes us one and the same.
The second part of Clarence's line almost brought a tear to my eye when I thought of Brothers who have laid down their working tools this year. Those men who were pillars in our Lodges as role models and mentors, whose encouraging words or kind smiles made us feel welcome and valued. And while I had visions of my Brothers who have gone to join the Grand Architect of the Universe, I also thought of a Brother who I haven't seen at a Lodge meeting in a few years. Work, his family, and caring for his aging mother are all reasons why he hasn't been able to attend a meeting night. But he also lost the passion for knowledge that could fill a small library because of a disagreement with members of his Lodge. I still hope that someday, he chooses to put on his dark suit and tie and surprise me at a meeting. A few days after watching the movie, I sent this Brother a text just to see how everything is in his world.
Lying in bed after the move, I stared up at the dark ceiling above to reflect on this year. I realized that there's a reason why we love It's a Wonderful Life: watching George Bailey's story causes us to examine our own. We choose to gather with our closest family and friends this time of year for a reason. We want to remember this feeling, knowing that years from now, those hugs from grandparents or the sound of giggling kids will be our precious memories. Reflecting on the Masonic year has the same effect. Dinners, ritual practices, community service, the raising of new Brothers. Those moments serve as the highlights of our year. While we may know the men we share that time with, we may never truly understand the significance of these shared experiences in their life. The "ripple effect" as one Brother put it, is a theme I understood throughout the movie. Somehow this year, the mix of new relationships and old memories made a deeper connection to the difference we make as Masons in the lives of those we interact with. "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."
Wherever you are this year, my Brother, I send you the warmest Holiday Greetings. May you continue to bring Light in every life you touch.