And there they sulk. They don’t appear particularly to like anything, not even their own kind. They sleep most of the time, and you never really see much of them. At least not until something begins to die.
Then, it’s as if they had a calling. They stretch and yell and jump and pick at themselves. They sort of collectively launch after their wounded game in a feathered frenzy. It becomes a contest to see which of them will be the first to get their talons and their beaks in the warm flesh of their poor victim. Tearing and ripping at their prey and at each other, to see who will devour the most and the best of what is offered up to them.
It’s a pitiful sight. Almost a ritual, repeated time and again until there is nothing left but bones.
It reminds me of another species I have observed. This one’s also a rather strange bird. It’s called a Past Master.
I’ve seen this fowl do pretty much the same things. It generally sits around minding its own business, cleaning its talons, and rubbing its bald head. Until something happens; almost anything at all. And then, watch out! It doesn’t take much to provoke this bird. In fact, he has been a little disagreeable ever since he was relegated from the head of the flock to his roost as Past Master—usually by some “up-start” who, in his way of thinking, can’t know half as much about what is going on. As far as the gaggle of Past Masters is concerned, the judgment is almost always in on the “sitting” Master before it ever went out. It is assumed that, if not watched like a hawk, the new guy will most assuredly tear everything down that they tried to erect while they were the head of the flock.
Now, the not so interesting thing about this is that, in the kind of lodges I am describing, these old birds were no different when they served their year in the “chair.” In fact, it is unlikely they tried anything earth shaking in their own time to move their lodge forward. Rather than actually take a chance on saving their lodge, they made the same choice every Master had made before them. They opted to contribute to the lodge’s death for yet one more year—by doing nothing.
And now, having passed to the ranks of “Past,” they sit in their roost, usually along the north side of the lodge, and sharpen their talons--in case something happens--so they can turn it back into nothing.
Of course, this visual image of Masonry does not apply to active, vibrant, dynamic lodges; of which we have many. And there are many wonderful Past Masters in the world of Masonry. But nonetheless, the image too often does exist across the landscape of American Masonry. I can well imagine it exists in any organization that has a progressive line.
It brings up a point. When a Worshipful Master chooses to “do nothing” during his year, and the Past Masters heartily endorse his lack of effort; they are, in effect, contributing to more than just the death of their lodge. They are contributing to their own demise. They are eating the meat from their own bones. And, over time, there will be no reason to be a Past Master. There will be no place for them to roost.
They will have no lodge in their area. And it will no longer mean anything to be a Past Master. They will spend their last days just being “old buzzards.” Then, when they die, there will be no younger birds to watch over their remains.
If there is a moral to this rambling, perhaps it is that our fraternal institution was never supposed to die because we had only buzzards for leaders. The ideal was never that a presiding officer be only an average leader; neither should he be expected to imitate a poor example. Nor should anyone who has already led feel envy because a successor outdoes him. Rather, all of us should act together in care of what brings our lodge success. And success is always fed by right example.
Leadership in Freemasonry has never been about titles, jewels, caps, fezzes, honors, or tradition. It is about making good choices in how we act, think, behave, and bring credit to our teachings. It is not the past, after all, but the future which conditions us—what we do with what lies in front of us is far more important than anything that has already happened to us.
Here is a key: Vision, integrity, and a focus on excellence happens one man and one lodge at a time. Once an environment is created that is conducive to self-motivation, the group dynamic changes. And when enough of the right things change in lodge after lodge after lodge, Freemasonry will grow again.
When the buzzards go to roost for good.