An article written for the SD Masonic Messenger Apr 4, 2011 23:05:42 GMT
Post by windtimber on Apr 4, 2011 23:05:42 GMT
Some people will take it wrong and criticize me for not going to my father’s funeral. My answer is this: I had my father’s business to attend to. He was buried in his Mason’s apron by the Danville lodge.
True Grit – be it the 1969 version with John Wayne as Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogborn, Ethan and Joel Coen’s 2010 masterful retelling of the story with Jeff Bridges and Haillee Steinfeld in the leading roles, or Charles Portis’ original story first serialized in 1968 in the Saturday Evening Post – catches the watcher, or reader, on many levels. Mattie Ross, the young protagonist, attends to the details of her father’s embalming, transport home, burial, collection of his personal effects, and final business with cool competence and confidence:
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem too strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.
Mattie’s father’s, Frank’s, personal effects consist, mostly, of a Colt Dragoon revolver and a gold watch chain and fob. As the film progresses to a critical juncture the Colt eventually fails, but Mattie’s heritage, symbolized by her father’s watch fob, a large Square and Compass, fails her not. The courage and determination of a fourteen year old girl brought to life by the imagination of Charles Portis should exemplify to the observant Freemason the Masonic legacy left by her father. She plans her work carefully. She chooses her tools with efficiency. She reacts to obstruction with cool competence. She finishes the work.
Did Mattie’s determinant character rise from Frank’s Freemasonry alone? Of course not. Did Mattie’s father's Freemasonry contribute to her strength of character? Of course it did.
Every single day Freemasons, through our actions and associations, model the fraternity to the uninitiated and our families. Consider that by holding truth, honor, and fortitude as our guides we endeavor to live our lives on a plane one step above the rabble of daily life.
Are Freemasons perfect? Far from it. We recognize that Freemasonry, and life itself, is a journey. A journey fraught with falls and failures; with missteps and mistakes. We try to live by truth, honor, and fortitude; we often miss the mark. But those slips, those falls, those failures are accepted, temporary setbacks. The true hallmark of Freemasonry is appreciation of the lessons learned from our mistakes and failures. A fall backward does not make us less a Freemason; does not turn us from our journey to light. It provides a means to find our way back to the path and find the ultimate goal.
Young Mattie Ross had every opportunity to turn from her self-appointed task of bringing her father’s murderer back to Fort Smith to hang for his unprovoked and heinous crime. But she persevered. She saw the good in the men who might have foregone her mission for their own personal gain. Through her own strength of character she drew that good from them, and set them on the righteous course. By keeping true to her word, she kept them true to theirs.
Frank Ross is most certainly dead. The story requires that certainty. We see him in his long house and are assured that he is enroute to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns. Nonetheless, the strength of his character flows unebbed in his daughter. Frank’s Freemasonry is reflected in Mattie. Wittingly, or unwittingly, she models her father’s purpose, honesty, strength of character.
As Freemasons we can only hope that the character we endeavor to consistently display to the world will similarly effect those around us. The study of Freemasonry is not limited to dusty tomes residing in glass fronted cabinets in our Lodge Halls. It’s not only our rituals, ceremonies, and libraries.
As Freemasons we are studied by the uninitiated. We model for the “cowans and eavesdroppers” what should be a life of moral rectitude. A demonstration of a compass of character which, though tested and, yes, mortal and wavering, always returns to the lodestone of truth, honesty, and fortitude.
We are what we do. Those around us see what we do and learn from our actions. Mattie Ross learned from her father, a Freemason. Our children…our friends…our business associates…all learn from us. Study Freemasonry carefully. Take time to converse with your Brothers. Compare your ideas. Debate your understandings and misunderstandings of Masonic ideals and mythology. Only through analysis of the allegorical lessons of our great fraternity and Masonic intercourse with your Brothers can you, as an individual, define for yourself your model of life as a Freemason.
Let us hope that each of us, through our education as Freemasons, will pass on “Masonic Grit” to all who surround us to the end that, eventually, new light dawns on a future, untroubled, world.
James D. Taylor
Commission on Masonic Education
Grand Lodge of South Dakota