Within Freemasonry, there are several recurring themes. If you were to spend time studying the symbolism of the Craft — and it doesn’t really matter which symbol(s) you choose to start with — time and time again, you’re going to be brought back to the concept of your own mortality. Coming to terms with how much life you don’t have left is one of the most powerful tools that there is. The emphasis on this throughout Freemasonry is truly, in my opinion, one of its greatest strengths.
How many men have been driven to accomplish great things upon this realization?
Before we proceed any further into this post, you should read through The Tail End by Tim Urban. If you don’t, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. The rest of what I write won’t carry the proper the weight, and you may not really be able to see what I’m trying to convey. The Tail End was linked to on /r/freemasonry not too long ago, and I thought it was a really powerful way to illustrate the brevity of life.
As I’ve stated before, our ritual and lectures are rich in content when it comes to this subject. After having read through The Tail End, perhaps the lecture on the Hour Glass will have more gravity:
The Hour Glass is an emblem of human life. Behold how swiftly the sands run and how rapidly our lives are drawing to a close! We cannot, without astonishment, behold the little particles which are contained in this machine; how they pass away almost imperceptibly! And yet, to our surprise, in the short space of an hour they are all exhausted. Thus wastes man! Today, he puts forth the tender leaves of hope; tomorrow, blossoms and bears his blushing honors thick upon him; the next day comes a frost which nips the shoot; and when he thinks his greatness is still aspiring, he falls, like autumn leaves, to enrich our Mother Earth.
What about the Scythe?
The Scythe is an emblem of Time, which cuts the brittle thread of life and launches us into eternity. Behold, what havoc the Scythe of Time makes among the human race! If, by chance, we should escape the numerous evils incident to childhood and youth, and with health and vigor arrive at the years of manhood; yet, withal, we must soon be cut down by the all-devouring Scythe of Time, and be gathered into the land where our fathers have gone before us.
There are countless other references within the Blue Lodge. It’s a concept that I don’t feel we’re really comfortable addressing in the United States — at least not in my jurisdiction — but it sits very near to the core of all that we do. It’s worth consideration, and I dare say that it might be one of the most valuable lessons to take away from the Craft.
So, what do we do with all of that?
I’ve spent the first half of this post making the case that “time is short,” but is it?
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.
— On the Shortness of Life, Seneca
Seneca the Younger, a Stoic philosopher from Rome, wrote these words in 49 A.D. — nearly 2,000 years ago. Man’s struggle with his own mortality isn’t a modern concept. I suspect that it’s older than most of the other things which have molded what we currently know Freemasonry to be. The interesting thing about Seneca’s viewpoint is that it isn’t passive. The real message lies in the spaces just between his words.
It doesn’t matter where you are in life. It’s never too late to build something more meaningful out of your remaining days.
This was a subject that I broached in A response to “The Beehive in Freemasonry”. It was also mentioned during my post on The Alchemist. My view is that this is one of those concepts that absolutely requires our mastery.
How do we even begin to do that?
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.
Again, Seneca comes through for us. While the above could be taken to mean a few different things, I believe that he is referring to direction or the setting of goals.
This is the portion of the post where I suggest that you start keeping a planner — and you probably cringe at the thought. I know. But I’m not suggesting that you use just any planner. Use one that allows you to set goals for yourself. Even Bro. Benjamin Franklin kept a daily planner (shown). He blocked out time, every day, to ensure that he was able to accomplish everything he intended. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more accomplished, too.
Set goals for yourself that will allow you to accomplish things of substance — not just daily “to-do” lists that are built up of everyday tasks. Choose one or two larger goals to work toward over the course of several weeks, and accomplish something. The goal isn’t to completely fill your days, but rather to ensure that you’re doing meaningful things often.
If Bro. Franklin’s habit of keeping a daily itinerary isn’t enough to convince you, a Brother from my Lodge shared the following with me: Daily Routines of Famous Creative People.
If we want to lead productive and more-fulfilling lives, we should selectively partition out our time. Every day that we don’t work toward accomplishing something meaningful is a day in which we’ve robbed ourselves, and those around us, of enrichment.
From this point forward, let us take the lessons of the Hour Glass and the Scythe to heart. Let’s choose to make our remaining days count. As far as we know, we only get one life. We have all of the tools before us to make it worthwhile. Whether or not we put them to use is up to us.
The title of this post is a quote from Richard II by William Shakespeare.