Living Life to the Fullest

Life is truly a wonderful journey. You never really know what is going to happen to you on any given day, or during any given week. Here I was all set to write a stinging, scathing article on how the City of Newark, New Jersey used $300,000 of homeland security funding towards the purchase of garbage trucks when a couple of unrelated events came together and created a totally new sentiment for me to share with you. It is a nice sentiment.

I owe a great debt to the two men who helped me to change my mind on what to share with you. One man is Most Worshipful Daniel M. Wilson, the Grandmaster of all Freemasons in New Jersey. The other man is my pastor, the Reverend Scott Brown of the Colts Neck Reformed Church. It is a pleasing thing to share the good works of great men like Scott Brown and Dan Wilson with you.

One man showed me how to buck the forces of change in a well-planned, dynamic way. The other caused me to pause and ponder my impact on the world in a day-by-day way. Neither offered an easy route to success, however, both offered a life of service to others.

Given the influence of the Supreme Architect of the Universe on these two men, it is then easy to see how their actions converged is a way that influenced me to be a more peaceful person. That is in itself a miraculous event.

Before proceeding further, let me explain to you that Masons are very much creatures of tradition and past practice. Think about the impact of tradition on the fire service and then multiply that thought by a factor of ten. As Masons, we are not supposed to ask people to join us. We are supposed to wait for them to ask us. Talk about a tremendous bar to growth and development.

Many of us in the Masonic world have become quite talented at spinning a web of Masonic lore around those men we felt would be good candidates for membership in our lodges. However, a number were not prepared to come into our world via the traditional route which involved a tremendous commitment in personal time and intellectual talent.

Unfortunately a great many men were not, and are not, prepared to enter our world in the classic manner. From time to time, controversial measures were taken to bring members in our fraternity via a truncated method. This has, over time, created a great deal of controversy. It became an "old way" versus "new way" dichotomy. In the meantime, while the philosophical battles were being fought, our membership decline continued unabated.

Four years ago Dan Wilson decided that he wanted his one year as Grandmaster to having a long-lasting impact upon the Masonic fraternity in New Jersey. Much like the world of the volunteer fire service, Freemasonry has been experiencing serious recruiting and retention problems. In our case, the older brothers are dying faster than new brothers were being brought in to take their place.

Dan Wilson decided early on that it was worth battling tradition and convention to create a mechanism that would help to stem the tide of membership decline in our ancient fraternity. Over the course of four years, he put the framework in place to create a special, one-day session for bringing new members into the Masons.

His was not an easy battle. As all of us who have at one time or another fought tradition and convention will agree, such battles are never easy. There are those traditionalists who believe that our organization has been diminished by these new "one-day" brothers.

This was a campaign that did not always wrap itself around the usual older member versus younger member battle lines. There were a number of young traditionalists and a number of older liberalists. Dan Wilson listened to all sides and then made his decision. He went ahead with the one-day program.

Logistically it was an extremely ambitious undertaking. Five sites were selected around New Jersey and the teams were set up in each location. The planning was extensive and literally hundreds of dedicated Master Masons, Scottish Rite Masons, and Shrine Masons were brought together to insure that each person would receive the necessary information and education to function in the Masonic world.

The original goal was 1,600 new brothers on a statewide basis. Dan Wilson told all of us in attendance at the Trenton Masonic Temple location on March 19 that the goal had been surpassed by a wide margin. As a matter of fact, one of the new brothers who entered the Masonic world was my buddy F/F Pete Arthmire from the Adelphia Fire Company. I served as Pete's mentor during the lengthy degree sessions.

Pete then went on to become a Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of Central Jersey. I have been a member of the Consistory for a number of years now. As the long day of ritual and ceremony came to an end, he and I became Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in the Crescent Temple, which is located in Burlington, New Jersey.

It was a most pleasing conclusion to the historic day of ritual for Pete and I to be fitted for the ancient, symbolic headwear of the Shrine, the fez. It should also be noted that Pete and I are brothers in the same college fraternity, Beta Theta Pi (different schools, different generations). Since we are both firefighters in Adelphia, I guess we are now brothers, times three.

What then was the lesson taught to me by Most Worshipful Daniel M. Wilson? Do not accept no for an answer when confronted with opposition to the need for a necessary change in your organizational world. Create a vision, share that vision, and empower people to work with you in reaching that vision. Without the hundreds of dedicated brethren who labored in the Masonic vineyards on March 19, 2005, none of this could have happened.

Late in the afternoon, as we were discussing the success of his dream, Dan Wilson said something most telling indeed. He said to me that, "I guess I was just too stupid to understand that I couldn't do what I wanted to do. So I did it" My friends let me tell you that Dan Wilson is a man who stood up to those who would say him nay and succeeded on the grand scale. It would be my prediction that his success on March 19, 2005 will extend well beyond his time as here on earth.

So if Dan Wilson influenced me on the grand scale, how then did Reverend Scott Brown have an impact upon me? Let me state that Scott's influence affected me on a much more personal level, and in a way that will stay with me for years to come.

During his Palm Sunday sermon, he convinced me of the rightness of living my life on a day-to-day basis. He did not discourage long-range planning, but he suggested that we needed to enjoy each day as the precious gift that it is.

Scott's opening words dealt with his observation that the world and those who dwell therein are constantly changing. How is it, you might ask, that people who respond cheerfully to your greeting one week can then be ready to bite off your head a short time later?

His words suggested to me that the Biblical imperative that we must all love one another is more than just a tad challenging for each of us. However, his words also spoke volumes about the changes which one individual can cause in the lives of many others.

Scott spoke of the importance which each individual day held in the life of Jesus during his last week here on Earth. He spoke of how Jesus accomplished something critical during each of his last moments among us. He spoke of how we each need to live our life with a purpose, knowing that our time here on Earth is finite. Every day should be lived with a purpose and a meaning for what we intend to accomplish before we too are called home.

He and I shared a thought at one point during the sermon. When he spoke of the futility of self-gratification as a purpose for living, I wanted to jump and shout Amen! Life is not all about gathering great piles of "things" for ourselves. Life is not about power. Life is about serving others and sharing what you have with them.

Life is about servant leadership. Life is about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is more about giving rather than about receiving. Sometimes I forget that important message. I think more about the "me" in message than the message itself. I promise to strive to get past that sentiment.

My last commentary visit with you was a bit on the negative side. I had some issues and was working through them. I want to thank those among you who shared kind words of support. You will never know how much they meant to me. Please forgive me for forgetting that you are the reason I write.

We all need to decide that doing something is always more important than doing nothing. We also need to learn how to set high expectations. However, we must understand the reality of life. We must all remember not to be too distressed when our experiences do not measure up to our expectations.

It is critical for me to offer another word of advice to you at this point. Always set high standards for yourself and your organization. Since there will always be a bit of a shortfall between ones expectations and life's reality, the higher the goals for which you shoot, the higher your probable end point will be.

My friends, there is a time for action and there is a time for rest and refreshment. Do not wear yourself out with continuing action and activity. Take some time for yourself. There must be periods of rest and reflection in your life. Think about how often I have spoke of my time on the front porch.

It is during the winter that I usually encounter greater difficulty in meeting life's challenges. I am unable to spend my quiet reflective moments on the front porch, surrounded by the pleasant aromas of hot Columbian coffee and Honduran cigars. That time will soon be available to me again, if the calendar and weather people are to be believed.

You too need quiet time in your life. Reflect on your thoughts and your beliefs. It is extremely difficult to be a servant to others if you are disquieted within your own soul and psyche. Set aside some mental and spiritual health time for yourself.

It is up to you to create an awareness of your beliefs, goals, and moral boundaries. Let me leave you with an acronym that will help you to live your life in a more forthright and stable manner. It is an acronym which Daniel Wilson adopted as the cornerstone of his year as Grandmaster of Masons in New Jersey.

IDEA
I = Integrity
D = Dignity
E = Enthusiasm
A = Attitude

Let me offer my take on his directive to each of us. We should set our course in life according to a moral compass of our own creation. We should treat others with the dignity due to each member of the human family. We should live life with a zest and enthusiasm that allows us to enjoy and be productive during every moment of our time on God's Green Earth. We should all have a positive, infectious, can-do attitude that will draw people to us. In this way we can have the greatest possible impact upon the world around us.

Scott Brown's words brought renewed meaning to my periodic visits with you. He reminded me that all fame and glory is fleeting. What you share with others, and the ideas you leave behind, are your true legacy. Scott left me with a vision of how to live each day for whatever period of time the Lord will allow.

Dan Wilson left me with a vision of how the future can be changed by one man's persistence, perseverance, and flexibility. I suggest that each of you can make a difference if you choose to proactively interact with the world around you.

Whether the impact of your works will last an hour, a day, a week, a year, or a lifetime is not for you to decide. The only choice you need to make is to decide to make a difference in the life of someone else. Please do just that.

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