Run the Whole Race
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. ~ Theodore Roosevelt
We have all heard the inspiring story about the young football player who, when his team was down by 3, with no time left on the clock, miraculously broke free from the line of scrimmage. He had no one between him and the goal line and no chance of being caught. The young man looked over his shoulder, saw that victory was his and took a knee at the one yard line losing the game.
What about the heartwarming story of the runner who ran 26 miles, 284 yards of the marathon and gave up with three feet left to the finish line, or the winner of the Indy 499.9?
Who remembers those stories? That’s right. No one does. No one wants to remember quitters. No one erects statues to the near-finishers of races. The people who earn glory, who get to bask in the glow of a life well-lived, are the ones who finish the tasks laid out before them, the ones they set out to do.
Most of us are familiar with Brother Theodore Roosevelt’s quote. In his Man in the Arena speech, he tells the listener that it is okay to try and fail. He suggests that mistakes are not only acceptable, but expected, “because there is not effort without error and shortcomings.” Nowhere does he ever suggest that it is okay to give up.
So to be clear, I’m not saying that losing a game or failing to finish a race is shameful. I am simply here to ask you: Are you, as a Mason, making your best effort both for yourself and your Lodge? What have you, personally, done to bring a new man to the Craft? What have you done to see that none go away dissatisfied? Tonight this Lodge was prepared to suspended 38 of your Brothers. Does that make you happy? Do you all feel that you have done your best? Or do you think that perhaps you could have done better as a Lodge and as a Brother.
Here is what I found out today: Brother W. (names omitted for privacy) and his two sons are having a hard time right now. One of the boys suffered a back injury and is uninsured. Now a 38 year member of the Lodge thought he had to choose between putting food on the table and paying for dues cards for himself and his sons. He is a proud man and proud to be a Freemason, so much so that he asked his sons to join. How do I know? I called him. I didn’t get through the first time, so I called him again because he matters. The best part of that is, through our conversation - and because someone offered him the hand of friendship, he now knows he matters.
Brother F. is in medical isolation. He has, in his words, “kicked cancer’s butt” twice and is currently undergoing blood transfusions for multiple myeloma. His doctors don’t allow him to answer the phone, but he snuck a call back to me to ask not to be suspended. With a voice trembling to fight back tears, he told me that he would never want to give up his membership in his Lodge. With all that was going on to his body, he was worried that remitting his dues for another year would be hard on the Lodge. He needs our prayers, Brethren, but we were willing to turn our backs on him, satisfied that one or two phone calls was the best effort we could make.
I know I usually stand before you and give you words of encouragement, and I ask you to take tonight’s talk as just that. Please do not walk away from here thinking you were chastised, but rather that you were challenged. If you squirmed in your seat, resolve to be better. If you broke out in a sweat, vow to change your behavior. Masonry is, at its core, a journey of self-improvement.
The simple truth about Lodge sustainability is that our numbers matter. More than that, however, Brotherhood should matter. We should never be happy with letting a Brother walk out the door. The loss of any one of us diminishes the whole. This Lodge was ready to potentially turn away not only $3,800 in revenue, but men. Brothers who are tied to us by Oaths we took to help, aid and assist. Are we doing that regularly?
Are you, the Members, more especially those of you who are wearing the badges of leadership, doing every single thing you can to make your Lodge grow? Do you simply what is expected, or do you do what is needed? If you were Brother F. or Brother W. or one of the many others whose story is not completely known, how would you want your Fraternity to respond? Be that kind of Brother.
We can do better.
Ask yourself tonight, would you rather find a way to be faintly satisfied in the dim, gray gloaming of a life half-lived or bask in the glorious meridian sun of triumph, content in the knowledge that you had given your all, run the race, done the deed and earn your place with others of whom it may be said done their all at all times?
The choice, my Brothers, is yours.