Last Sunday, August 29, 2010 a member of Municipality of Sibunag, Province of Guimaras. With the intention of preserving his dignity in death, I will just call him by his nickname Roger. I am sharing this experience in the hope that we may revisit our obligation and find other perspectives behind the words. Lodge No. 194, GLP. was buried in a small cemetery in Barrio Sabang,
Sometime in November last year, Roger's wife Lolita came to my office at YMCA Iloilo. Our lodge (I am a plural member) hold their stated meetings at the YMCA's Graciano Lopez Jaena Forum Hall. Out of the fifteen member YMCA Iloilo board of directors, 11 are Masons plus myself the General Secretary and our building superintendent, WB Joe Sulpico. Sis Lolita was looking for WB Juanito Acanto, a YMCA board member and a #194 PM who presided over Roger's raising in the mid 1970s. She informs that her husband was in distress and that his condition is life threatening. Roger was 73, a survivor of a cerebral stroke, had and chronic hypertension. The family is in dire financial condition and Roger needs maintenance medication. I told Sis Lolita that I will do my best to help. I also asked her about Roger's survival chances. Sis Lolita said Roger's days are numbered but she has to act proactively if only to prolong their days together, she also being in her early seventies.
I have never met Roger so I started asking about him. He was indeed in our lodge files but has been suspended for more than twenty years for non-payment of dues and absences. Roger was a retired civilian worker in a US Navy facility in Guam and seemed to enjoy a prosperous life when he became a Mason. I also asked about his reputation. From the few who knew him, it seemed that he was a big disappointment as a Mason. But who am I to judge him when I never met him personally? What I knew for a fact was that he was dying and his about-to-become widow declared distress and approached me, who she never met before, asking for "aid and assist".
My first move was to contact WB Rolly Gange, a PM of several lodges in Illinois and a Pinoy Mason. Bro. Rolly is building a retirement house in his hometown Sibunag. At that time Bro. Rolly was in the U.S., so I asked him if he can solicit hypertension and diabetes maintenance medicines in the US, they are so cheap there. Bro.Rolly did just that and Roger got his medicines. Bro. Rolly met Roger and Lolita for the first time when he came home last May. Bro. Rolly became their benefactor, a complete stranger who only happened to be a fellow Mason.
Early last month, Roger's daughter sent a text message informing that her dad was weakening fast and it would only be a matter of days. Last August18, Roger's life came to an end. We were informed that Roger was to be buried noontime August 29. That day, the lodge was to play host to a Middle Chamber Fellowship to commemorate , so we could not even send a representative to his funeral nor give him, a suspended Mason, the last rites. Their place is about three hours travel from . All we could do was to discreetly solicit assistance for his funeral, by first asking the brethren if a widow's distress call sans the grand hailing sign is as important as that coming from a brother himself. Only five Masons thought so and gave assistance.
Sometime during the week before the burial, Sis Lolita again came calling. I told her that WB Kiks Catequista, PM (a civil engineer who is building Bro.Rolly's house) just left to visit them, pay respects and deliver assistance. I asked her how she intended to bury Roger. She said for the sake of the grandchildren and the community, a funeral mass will be celebrated in their house thereafter, it will be direct to the cemetery. She said how she buries Roger is solely the family's prerogative. I asked her if she knew that a Mason is buried with his lambskin apron. She said yes, but Roger's has been lost through the years. I don't know if she was being literal or allegorical. I told her that among the things WB Catequista brought with him was an apron but, it was no longer pure white, it had blue borders and the name of the lodge. For the first time, I saw Sis Lolita shed tears. She stood up and gave me a hug and said that she will bury Roger as a Mason and that she is sure he will like to wear for the last time an apron given by his mother lodge. Suddenly, I was sure that behind the sparse words, were lengthy recalls and last wishes between them and that they were often Masonic in substance.
The night of the Middle Chamber Fellowship, before partaking of nourishment, the called for a toast to remember all Masons "who have crossed the bridge into that unknown land from whose midst no traveler ever returns" The five of us knew that this was done because it was part of the ritual. At the back of our minds was Roger and the love of his wife, Lolita. I'm not sure whether the brethren (most of whom never met Roger) who partook of the toast, really understood its significance.
To close: "All grudges, all animosities, all unresolved differences, cease at that dark river of death over which our brother has gone. If any brother here hath suffered wrong in the hands of him, whose lips can no longer utter words of regret nor make atonement . . . then by this symbol of the Rose Croix, I do most eloquently plead for that brother to forgive the wrong, for as God which art in heaven, forgiveth the trespasses of a Mason, so doth he forgiveth those of his dead brother"
Labong Lodge No. 59, GLP