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When Laughter Is Sad

"Oh, it's going to be rich. The poor fish is scared to death. And you know when Abbot does the work in the third degree how, er... well, let's call it impressive, he is."

The Young Mason chuckled at the thought.

"That's not going to be the only funny thing happen Wednesday night," answered another newly-raised brother. "I happen to know my friend Ted is going to do the Senior Deacon's part. And Ted gets stage fright. He doesn't lose his memory or anything, but his voice goes up about an octave and a half; Oh, it's funny. I laughed, last time I heard him..."

"I had a good laugh at one of the members of my class when I went in," chimed a third voice. "He couldn't understand what was going on and objected to every move and generally reminded me of a bucking billy goat. I laughed until I cried. I shall look forward to Wednesday night..."

"I wonder," broke in a quiet voice, "if you young gentlemen realize what it is you are saying?"

"Why... why... why of course, we do. We haven't said anything wrong, have we?" inquired the first speaker of the Old Past Master sitting quietly in the corner of the ante-room, listening.

"I am an old, old man," countered the Old Past Master, gently. "I have lived a long, long time, and the longer I live the less able I am to classify anything as wholly right or wholly wrong. I wouldn't sat that in what you said is wrong in the sense that it is intentional evil. It is wholly wrong from my point of view, to bite the hand that feeds you, to abuse hospitality, to belittle the agency that helps you, to deride and make sport of holy things, to injure that which is valuable to others even though valueless to yourself."

"But, good heavens, man. We haven't done any of those things. Why, I only said that Abbot is so impressive he'd make a good laugh come out on Wednesday's degree..."

"That was enough, my brother. Is there a church into which you would go with the idea of laughing at a penitent at the Altar? Is there a church in which you would think it right to laugh at a communicant partaking of the bread and wine? Is there a church where the spectacle of a man on his knees would make you laugh, no matter how odd or peculiar he was or how he was dressed?"

"Of course not. I don't laugh in church..."

"Then why laugh in the lodge? In all the third degree, is there humor? Do you not know that it is a tragedy which the third degree portrays, a tragedy no less that it teaches an inspiring lesson, and has the inspiration of all that is good and noblest in a good man's character?

"What do you think a candidate thinks when the most solemn, the most sacred, the most secret of a Master Mason's lessons is being given to him, if from you, and you, and you on the benches, comes smothered laughter? Will it add anything to the impressiveness of the degree in his eyes? Will he feel that what he is being given is sacred, valuable, precious to his heart? Or will he say to himself, 'Evidently there is a catch in this somewhere... I guess it's a joke, and I am it!'

"You have spoken of Filby, who has stage fright and whose voice raises an octave because of it. Filby wasn't blessed by nature with a beautiful voice, but God gave him something precious to Masonry, and that is earnest, sincere, genuine enthusiasm. I have been in this lodge for more years than you have been on earth, and I have never known a Senior Deacon to put more into his work than Filby does, though he has a poor voice. The words Filby uses are inspired words; the degree he puts on is a noble degree. And Filby does it as if inspired by its nobility. Would you laugh at a hero saving a life because he was dressed in caps and bells? Can't you hear, beyond poor Filby's cracked vocal chords, the chimes pealing in his heart as he tries to make his words impressive and beautiful?

"Another of you has found it funny when a candidate for the third degree has not understood his part and made it difficult for the team to put him through the ceremony. At Receiving Hospital last week they brought in a young man suffering from a broken arm. He was very ignorant; one of those foreigners who understands little or nothing of American ideas and ideals. And to him a hospital was a torture place, a house where doctors cut people to pieces for their pleasure. He was frightened almost to death and struggled and fought, while the surgeons tried to control him that they might set his arm. Was it funny? Or was it sad, that ignorant people had so destroyed his faith in his kind that he couldn't recognize kindness and help when he saw it?

"The man who was too frightened to understand and so made his third degree difficult was a victim of those who had tormented an imaginative mind with the idea of goats and pain and indignity in a Masonic lodge. I find nothing funny in it; only sadness.

"Don't think of me as an old kill-joy. A good laugh at some wit in a business meeting, a good laugh at a good story after lodge; these are all well and good; wholesome and natural. Whether they are located in a lodge, a church or a home, they are good.

"But not in a church during service, not in a lodge during a degree. There is no laugh in the lodge during any degree which is not an insult to the officers, and a badge of ignorance and ill-manners for him who laughs. Charity we can preach; charity we should practice towards those who do not do so well in the degrees as we think we might; the fraternity is not to be laughed at because there are some who make one part of the third degree less real than strenuous.

"Look, my brother, for what lies beneath; regard not so much the outward form as the inward meaning and you will not again be tempted to consider a degree as a substitute for a vaudeville performance, a lodge as a temple of laughter."

The Old Past Master ceased and sat quiet, waiting.

"But I say!" cried the Young Mason, "Don't you think you are a little rough with us?"

"You are all much too good material to allow to spoil for the sake of your feelings," answered the Old Past Master with a smile.

"But you sure take a chance we'll dislike you for plain speaking."

"What do I matter? You may dislike me... but I don't believe you will laugh in lodge again!"

"I'll say I won't either!" answered the Young Mason. It's a promise...and I'd like to shake hands!"

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