2nd Annual Shriners International Personal Essay Contest
I recently received a phone call from that came up as “Tampa Florida” on my phone. Because I did not recognize the number I almost ignored it thinking it was just some sort of solicitation. Reluctantly I answered the phone to hear the lady congratulating me on being one of three winners in the 2nd annual Shriners International Personal Essay Contest. This was still confusing to me because at first I did not recall entering said essay contest. After a minute or so I recalled receiving an email back around October (2012) about it. I was in the middle of writing a paper for the PA Academy of Masonic Knowledge so I just continued spilling my thoughts. The entire essay wrote itself in just under an hour or so. Having zero expectations I replied to the email and submitted my essay.
Because I am unable to attend Imperial Session this summer the Jaffa Shrine Potentate will be accepting the award on my behalf. I received in mail today a very nice plaque with my name on it, a pin, and a Gift card to Amazon. They told me that a similar plaque would be given to the Jaffa Shrine as well to hang in the building. All this is very cool.
Why is this important? Well, for one it is really cool and I am honored to have won. Out of the entire Shriners International organization there were three winners. That’s cool! I would love to know how many people entered, but so far I haven’t been able to find out. With that said, I was asked by a lodge brother the other day, “Did you write this before or after you wrote your scathing opinion on the Shrine?” For the record, it did write it before. I actually wrote it before South Carolina suspended Shrine relations, and before the GL of Arkansas approved their decision to declare the Shrine Clandestine.
What is important to understand as you read this is that I maintain neither one of these items (my blog on the Shrine or this essay) contradict each other. The essay, being my personal experience, explains what concepts originally brought me to Freemasonry and the Shrine. It also explains how I PERSONALLY use the Shrine. I took great strides to list the Masonic elements that are important to me and why others may not get the same element and Masonic connection out of the Shrine as I do. In my review and opinion of the Shrine I explain exactly where the Shrine and Blue Lodges are dropping the ball and list several explanations for why I feel the way I feel. No one has to agree with me. As Bro. Brent Morris says, “I am the world most authority on my opinion.”
Hopefully you all will enjoy my essay below, if not, thanks for reading anyway. Please leave me any comments of thoughts. If you liked what you read here…GREAT. Be sure to follow me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SquareOfVirtue
The essay follow:
Who Are These Guys?
2nd Annual Shriners International Personal Essay Contest
For many people, the first recollection or experience we have of the Shriners is most likely seeing them in a parade as a child. After all, to many people, what parade would be complete without those guys in the tiny cars and funny red hats?
In addition to parades, if you are fortunate enough to live in an area where they hold an annual circus, another one of your childhood memories, no doubt, would be that of attending the circus. Many times these circuses are held in beautiful temple like structures adorned with mysterious symbols that seem almost cryptic to a child. As a kid, I remember asking myself, “Who are these guys?”
Sadly, for many people, outside of tiny cars, elephant rides, and great buildings, the intrigue of the Shriners does not move much further. As a kid, I was no different. I could recognize a Shriner by his fez and I looked forward to the circus, but other than that, I didn’t care. I didn’t need to care.
That all changed when I was in 10th grade. Like any 16 year old, I did not think about things like health insurance or medical care. I had never been faced with serious illness or had to witness hardship brought on by a hospital stay. Up until this point in my life I had been healthy as a horse other than the occasional cold or broken bone. It was this year that I first saw true hardship. It was at this time that a girl who went to my school, whom I did not know, contracted spinal meningitis.
At first I didn’t pay much attention to the teachers talking about it, or give much thought to how serious it was. Then I remember the matter evolving into a very big deal. Before too long there were fundraiser being held and communities donating assistance to this girl and her family. Things seemed to keep going from bad to worse. Within a few months she had lost several body parts from the illness. All hope seemed lost and I remember on more than one occasion hearing about how they had to make another amputation. I remember hearing on more than one occasion that she was probably going to die.
This was, for the first time in my life, that I started to learn who the Shriners were and what they did for the community. I started to hear the word Shriner more and more, and it typically wasn’t accompanied by the phrases “funny red hat” or “elephant ride.”
Although I am sure there is much more to this story that I have glossed over, all I knew was that there was a society of men who took this girl, who they did not know, transported her, continued to serve her, and saved her life. Not to mention, this was all done at no cost to her family. I again remember asking myself, “Who are these guys?”
For the next few years I learned more and more about the Shriners and their mission. I learned about burn units and pediatric research centers. Suddenly these guys with the funny hats and tiny cars actually meant something to me. I was captivated by an organization of men who brought so much joy to families and communities.
As I moved through high school I was fortunate enough to meet a few Shriners who told me about the process in becoming a Shriner. These men led me to research Freemasonry where I gained a great amount of respect for not just one fraternity of men that were helping children, but a whole society of men with upright morals and rectitude of conduct.
I learned of a society of men who were all equal, on the level so to speak, despite what church they belonged to, where they worked, or how much they made. I found a complete fraternity of men that used symbols like the plumb, level, and square to teach life morals of citizenship, acceptance, honor and virtue.
Suddenly I “knew who these guys were.” I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to someday be a part of this large and noble organization of men. I could not wait to become of age and take upon myself the oaths and obligations which I continue live by every day of my life.
As a Mason I learned about various tools and symbols that I can use to guide my actions in daily life. As a Shriner I am given the opportunity to utilize these tools to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection not just to my fellow members of the Craft and the Shrine, but to hundreds of citizens in the communities around me.
My journey from uninformed high school kid to Master Mason, to Shriner, and even to Master of my Blue Lodge has been an overwhelming and exciting experience. The bonds of fraternal peace, brotherly love and respect for my fellow citizens have given me the pride and confidence that I am not sure I would have found else ware.
The very principles taught in Freemasonry and implemented in the Shrine no longer have me asking “Who are these guys?” but rather, “Would you like to know a little bit about who we are?”
The girl who I mentioned above is alive and well to this day. For me, I not only view her as an inspiration to many, but also as a constant reminder of who the Shriners are and what their true purpose is. Without her even realizing it, she sent me on a journey from darkness to light and made me a better husband, father, and friend, and man.
I am forever grateful for her unintended gift to me. I will always be honored to be a small part of this great fraternity. Not to mention, I look forward to the day when my son looks up at me after seeing a big man wearing a funny hat in a tiny car and asks “Dad, who are these guys?”
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