I am not shy talking about my involvement in Freemasonry and when I talk to people who have known me for a long time, I always get that quizzical look from them. “But you always thought fraternities were stupid….”, my college friends will say. I also like “But you don’t look like a typical Mason”, as if we all are supposed to look like characters from a PBS series. And even my family doesn’t completely understand why this group has come to mean so much to me and take up so much of my time and energy. So, as Edward Albee writes: “Sometimes you have to go a long way out of your way to come back a short way correctly”-allow me to explain.
I come from Oregon, Wisconsin, a small town just south of Madison. Small enough that I had the type of childhood that you associate with a small town. I knew every single person in my high school graduating class and had known many of them since before kindergarten. During the summer you would get on your bike at 7am and, knowing that you had to be back in your yard by the time the sun was down, were often racing the sun home after having had a day of adventure with your friends. The type of town where my father played ball with all the local cops or most of my teachers and the local pizza place would let you charge your order, knowing that someone from your family would be in later to pay. When I was 18, that type of existence was awful, because everyone in town knew me by my relationship to someone else: I was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend, someone’s ex and I felt like I just wanted to be me, on my own.
So I went 90 minutes away to Marquette, a Jesuit college in the big city of Milwaukee and joined the theatre department. A small group of people with similar beliefs, desires, and values who accepted you, no matter how strange you were or thought you were as long as you were nice and “did your job”. It was in that group that I found a smaller group, all of us new to the school and most of us in the same dorm who bonded in that strange, wonderful, and severe way that can only happen your first year of college. These people still remain my closest friends and not a day goes by that I don’t hear from one of them or think about one of them. As we travel through life, they travel with me even if we’re travelling miles and states apart.
After college I started taking martial arts again at a great school with a phenomenal family atmosphere. The quality of the instruction, the quality of the people there, the quality of care and concern they show for their students is something I have never found at any other martial arts school I have been to. I also started teaching in a high school in Milwaukee and again found myself with a group of people who had high ideals, strong values, concern for their students and their community. And among these people, I found four friends, brothers really, with whom I did some phenomenal work and had some excellent times that I will cherish forever.
So you see, I’ve always been a part of close groups of quality people and enjoyed and delighted in their support and friendship, I just didn’t realize it. I think I was always looking for what Masonry offered, I just didn’t know it. I left Milwaukee seven years ago and my transition to Ohio was difficult, to say the least. I felt so disconnected, so alone, so lost and I didn’t know why. But I knew that being in Ohio was important to my wife and that this part of Ohio was going to be my daughter’s hometown. She was going to have similar memories of the Appalachian area that I have of Oregon. This was going to be her community and I needed to love it because she will eventually. My parents taught me that the best way to learn to love a community is by serving it; because you see it, you understand it, you listen to it, and you become invested in it. I looked at different ways of serving my community and in my research I found information on the Masons. I read about the things that they revere:
–Brotherly Love: Masons hold that they should seek to take care of their community, whether that is the smaller community of their Lodge or the larger community as a whole. This is why the histories of almost every town, state, and this Great Nation are just littered with the contribution of Masons. Masons hold to that old ‘campsite rule’-you should leave a place better than when you found it. If I look out my window tonight and see that my car is on fire, there are Brothers I can call and it would not surprise me at all if they were standing in my driveway with fire extinguishers before I hung up the phone. I would hope that they would say the same of me.
–Relief: Masons believe it is our duty to relieve the suffering of others whenever possible. As everyone travels on the path of their life, they encounter rocks in the way and Masons believe that we should help remove those rocks whenever we can. Sometimes that happens because we are asked, but often that happens because we see the rock in your path before you do and we take care of it. Masons don’t take curtain calls for this type of work, because we believe that this type of thing isn’t headline news, it is what you’re supposed to do. If you can help make someone’s path easier, why wouldn’t you do it?
–Truth: Masons believe that certain words like ‘duty, ‘honor’, ‘integrity’, citizenship’, ‘friendship’, honesty, and ‘character’ have meaning and should have meaning in today’s world. That meaning shouldn’t depend on whether or not you are in Lodge or who you’re interacting with. So, when you meet a fellow Mason, you already have a level of comfort and trust because you know that the person you’re speaking with holds the same values that you do. You know that he seeks to be square in his actions and words, that he wants to live encompassed with love, family and community. The quest for truth is also a quest for knowledge, meaning that Masons revere education and understanding. Masons hold that an increase in your knowledge leads to an increase in your character. It doesn’t mean that a Mason thinks he is better or smarter than you, it just means that he thinks that he should, himself, be better: a better friend, husband, father, and person; and that maybe his quest to become better and smarter will do some good.
–Universality: There are so many things in the outside world that divide us, but they disappear once the Lodge Door is closed. Masons regard no man for their station in life, just by their actions and words. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D or can’t spell GED, once you are in that Lodge who you are and what you have to say is worthy of respect and being listened to. President Harry Truman, when in Lodge, demanded to be addressed as “Brother” and not “Mr. President”. I have met men in this Fraternity from different backgrounds, different political beliefs, different religions and some of them so different that there is no way, on paper, that we should get along and yet, we do. These things that divide us ultimately do not matter, because I know, at their heart, that we value and want the same things. They have my back and I have theirs. I am a part of this community.
In reading about these things, I realized that they were important to me, too. I was missing. I was missing that close group of quality people who are accepting, curious, humble, and community-minded; I was missing being a part of something compassionate, interesting, and challenging; I was missing being a part of something with a history, with community ties, with familiarity. I think I was missing being known as someone’s Brother.
Masons never recruit; you have to ask to join. I found the e-mail address of my local Lodge and the adventure began. Later, I contacted the Lodge in Oregon, Wisconsin and became a member there, as well, so that my work in Masonry supports both my hometown and my daughter’s. I have a long way to go before I am the husband, father, and man that I want to be, but being a member of this group is helping me get closer. So, when people ask me, ‘Why are you a Mason?’, my first thought is to say, ‘Why the hell aren’t you? But my response is always that I have a long way to go before I am the husband, father and man that I want to be, and being a Mason is helping me to get closer. And that’s reason enough.
Written By: Chad Kopenski
Chad Kopenski is a Past Master of Paramuthia #25 in Athens, Ohio, and member of Amesville #278 in Amesville, Ohio as well as Oregon #151 in Oregon, Wisconsin, Chad currently serves as District Deputy Grand Master for his District as well as serving on the Grand Lodge Education COmmittee and the Grand Lodge Membership Committee for the Grand Lodge of Ohio. Chad is an educator by trade and a proud autism dad. He lives with his wife, daughter, and various critters in Appalachian, Ohio