When a story hits, the 24 hours new cycle machine runs into the ground and in a blink the story vanishes into Wikipedia footnote history. When you read this, the main story will have passed. But for me the story is just beginning.
Two Brothers died on January 7th. Masonic brothers Bernard Maris and Michel Renaud were murdered by Islamist attackers. They died because they were exercising their free speech and those who wish to destroy such people had them killed in a bloody massacre.
This story is about them. It’s about two men who were part of a paper that was constantly threatened with death for doing something as simple as writing funny cartoons. It’s about two people who literally had police protection because their lives were always being threatened. And they died because they didn’t shrink back from men who ultimately took their lives.
We as Masons are taught through our ritual and through our culture that we have a bond to the fraternity and each other. Our word and our spirit are tied to it and thus to all the men around the world who share our Masonic label. When I saw this information about a week ago, it struck me and I wanted to make sure I wrote about it. As I write this, I don’t know where this blog entry will go. And that is why I’m writing about this. Two Brothers who are bonded to me through Masonry lost their lives and I’m not sure how to feel about it.
The nature of that bond is something that I meditate on. As a Mason it’s common to look to God and to wonder how one should feel. Yet I didn’t do any such thing. Instead, my first reaction was to have a feeling of admiration. Even a bit of Masonic nationalism. I admired that Masons worked at such a paper that censors for no one. I also felt pride that my brothers were there, doing things that stood for something and shaped the world.
Pride, admiration. But not sorrow. Not loss. I wonder as I write this if that makes me a terrible person. I’ll have times where I find out someone admirable is a Mason and I’ll get a rush of excitement. And excitement that clearly comes from my own internal insecurities. Why should I be excited that another Mason is admired? Why should I feel prideful that a brother did something great. I clearly didn’t do anything. I have a Masonic label like this person and we do have a bond, but Michel and Bernard were the ones who actually were going out and doing something. They were the ones with the guts. The ones without fear.
I did some cursory research of them as I wrote this. If I’m going to talk about dead brothers, it only makes sense that I actually get to know who they were. For Bernard Maris, he has his own Wiki entry and several write-ups. He was an economic writer who used a pen name and he has a long history in Charlie Hebdo (11% stakeholder since 1992!) and has done a great deal of work in academia. His anti-globalization stance is pretty French and also one that I feel some affinity towards. A professor who wrote books about economics and who also wrote for a paper that drew funny cartoons? If we met in real life, I would have enjoyed his company. For Michel Renaud, the information is tougher to find. Putting his name into Google only reveals a few light articles, all in French. Apparently was a guest editor and he traveled the world a lot. He even wrote a few books.
In any other situation, these men are just another series of people killed in the news in a world where people die all the time. Between our news, action movies and books, experiencing people dying is just a commonality. Whether it’s a faceless henchman, or a close friend, death is a part of the tapestry of the things that we consume and care about. I have become desensitized. I owe some of that to my Asperger’s, but have also cried from the death of loved ones who were close to me. I recently had my grandfather on my Dad’s side die. It was the first time I cried in a long time. Maybe half a decade.
The nature of our emotional bond to each other is a complex one. I spoke to my Grandfather a few times a year and I saw him in person every few years. He was a good man who did things the right way. He was on the level and lived by the square yet never stepped foot in a lodge. When he died, he left a lot of money to my parents. Money he saved up. Money he could have used for pleasure or personal use. But he kept his minerals and metals and when his bond with the world snapped, he passed on not just a legacy of great moral nature but he passed on his sacrifice to my Dad and my Mother. For the first time in decades, my parents were now not in debt. My Dad had tears in his eyes when he told me, debt was one of the things that hung on him like a noose. He was finally free of his bonds to the world. I can see why he cried. Because of college loans, I have my bond to the world too. I have my debt. And someday when I’m free like my Dad, maybe I’ll cry too.
When I cried at my Grandfather’s funeral, I wish I cried more. I saw his body laying there and I had a decent cry. I wish I cried more. There was something inside of me that wasn’t letting go. Something that held me back from fully letting my emotions be free. While people were talking and observing the wake, I slinked off to a side room and surfed Reddit on my cellphone. I was back to being numb, being emotionless, being away from pain. I have never thought until now why I cried for my grandfather. Maybe it was because it was the first real funeral I’ve been too since I can remember. I’ve been lucky with that.
But what was my relationship with my grandfather? Like I said, I spoke to him a few times on the phone and we really didn’t have much to talk about. He was a Missouri farmer, I’m some Boston guy doing my thing in the film industry. He didn’t watch movies, I didn’t milk cows. We spent some time together every few years, but those experiences wouldn’t be more then a day. That was my relationship with my grandfather. We were bonded by blood, but we rarely saw each other.
Those experiences I had with my grandfather are slowly becoming distant memories. But this Thursday when I got to lodge to sit on the sidelines for a 3rd degree, I’m going to again share the same experience Bernard and Michel have experienced. And when I watch a 2nd degree in three weeks, I’ll share another experience. While they are GODF Masons (we consider them irregular but they have many similarities), I share memories and experiences with them just due to the nature of the Masonic system. We both did this. We both went from darkness to light. We both found ourselves separated from the world by being Masons yet more connected then ever to it. My grandfather and I shared experiences together, we had a bond together then cuts to the core of our DNA. A bond and a shared experience that brought me to tears. But when I found out Bernard and Michel died, I felt no such feeling. I actually felt worse when the initial attack happened. What does that mean? How should I feel?
It’s common for people to feel stronger bonds with people who aren’t blood then with people who are. Many people say they felt closer to their football coach then their father, closer to a great teacher then to their mother. I would say that typically the family blood bond is the strongest bond. Yet there are many instances of people having an uncle die and they remained impassioned but a famous celebrity dies and it brings them to their knees. There are always exceptions but family is the strongest one.
Masonry mimics that family. We have brothers, we’re ALL brothers. We have a Master of the lodge, the father, that while elected leads our tribe in the ways of organization and self-improvement. When Brothers die we are all called to be there to bury the dead and to support those that the brother left behind. We are a family. My grandfather, a man who lived a simple farm life and who I barely knew, caused me to break when I experienced his death. Yet I show no sorrow for two brothers who I share experiences with often who stood in the face of darkness and were struck down because of it?
And I guess it’s really simple for me. For me, that personal bond, that shared experience between men, is where my soul breaks. If I knew Barnard and Michel, I’m sure I would be there at their funeral and I would be just as broken up as anyone else. As I write this, pangs of guilt now mix with flashes of genuine sorrow for them. If I weren’t a Mason and I wasn’t writing this blog, I may have never cared about them. I may have never had the decency to understand who they were and are.
When my grandfather died, a poem was read. I cried when I saw my grandfather’s body, and while my memory is hazy, I’m sure I cried when this poem was read to. I’ll share it with you.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
For my grandfather and for brothers Michel and Barnard, their bond with this world has now been broken. And someday we will all meet again in that great lodge, the building made without hands, eternal in the Heavens.
Lastly, as I read that poem again just now to copy and paste it into this entry, I almost broke down. I almost had that moment of true emotion. Then I realized I was thinking about myself. About how I was reading that poem, and how I was going to tell you how I felt. And in a flash those true emotions vanished away. My memory of the funeral is hazy but now I sit here and wonder if I ever cried at all when I first heard it. And then I realized something right here and now that I couldn’t cry when I read about Michel and Bernard, because all I could think about was me.
May I be forgiven and may I someday truly mourn the death of the great men who died doing the right thing. All three of them. They deserve better then me. It’s about them.