Saturday, June 6, 2020

Freemasonry on the Doorstep
An Individual Freemasons response to the Covid-19 Pandemic
By Tom Hendrickson-P.G.M.

In the past few months, we have watched the deadly Coronavirus sweep across the world, and ferociously spread across the United States. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a type of national emergency that has severely disrupted society and our daily lives, in ways that we have never experienced before. Most of the state governors have imposed drastic measures ordering their residents to remain in their homes and to practice social distancing to slow the spread of this deadly virus.
Our country has experienced many crises in the past. There were wars, acts of terrorism, hurricanes, flooding and many other natural disasters. In those emergencies, we as the public were called to action, but this time is different. This can be life or death for many individuals, it has affected all Americans in multiple ways and the crisis came with inadequate warnings about the magnitude, both for health of the nation and the economy. This national emergency is different as we have been told to go home, wait or work in isolation along with totally and dramatically changing the way we normally live our lives. 
Social distancing started out with avoiding physical contact and staying at least six feet away from other people to lessen our chances of catching COVID-19. Then it quickly expanded to the prohibition of people gathering in groups. In particular, this kept us from our Masonic activities. It also meant not attending our houses of worship, concerts, sporting events or even participating in a pickup game of basketball. Schools, colleges and universities closed and shifted to online learning. Any business deemed non-essential locked their doors. Some employees were sent home with equipment to work from home while others have been layed off or furloughed. Those employees that have confidence in their jobs have no idea when they might return, but some others have no confidence in returning to their jobs ever again.  Self employed individuals wonder how to pay the bills and if life will ever be what we knew as “normal” ever again.

In just a few weeks COVID-19 dramatically changed our lives. We are all struggling with our own anxieties and uncertainties about our lives and COVID-19. Listening to my Brothers, friends and family members I think I can say we all share some of the same anxieties. We all fear catching COVID-19, or that our family members will get sick. We are worried about financial hardship from being laid off from our jobs, or will we have a job to return to? We may have experienced loss from our retirement investments or college savings? How long will my savings last and how can I pay the bills? If older or have health issues, if I catch COVID-19 will it kill me? With no promise of when the situation will be over the uncertainty is starting to influence our mental health. Our fears coupled with uncertainty leave some terrified by the unknown risks.

Shelter in place, social distancing, social isolation or the term lock down have new relevance to our daily lives, and depending on your perspective, may be easier for some to cope with than for others.
Shelter in place or locked down may be different for someone else, but to me they mean the same thing.

Social Isolation or Locked Down is a term depending on your perspective but means the same thing.  

We were ordered to stay in our homes except for buying food, seeking medical attention, pick up prescriptions or for other types of essential services. Health authorities have issued guidelines for people who have serious underlining health conditions that might be at much greater risk for severe illness or death from the COVID-19.

In a very short period of time living day to day became more complex and certainly add to the sense of fear surrounding the Coronavirus. We were only allowed to leave the house for the essential needs. Getting coffee, eating out, visiting the gym, going to the barbershop, watching a movie and even seeing our doctors and dentists become impossible.

Suddenly wearing a mask and rubber gloves become a daily essential and almost routine.  When we go to the grocery store, we are met with long lines, and empty shelves. On one of my trips to the store I could see the anxiety in a woman’s eyes and hear the despair in her voice as she was talking to her husband. “No toilet paper, no hand sanitizer, no bleach, no chicken…now what?”

There were and are some people who cannot leave their homes because they have underlying health conditions and it is too dangerous to risk getting exposed to the virus. Even the Minnesota is “opening up” and relaxing some restrictions, those individuals still have to be careful as the danger has not passed. There are those with mobility problems that have had to change their daily routines.  These groups of people have the added worries of if they will have enough food to eat, and what are they going to do when their medications run out. Where do they turn for help to obtain the necessities of life for weeks or months? Many have lost their spouse and have been living alone for some time. The few friends that they do have left are in the same situation that they are in or are living in a care facility which is, as has been shown in the death rates, its own difficult situation.

Lock down is a term often used by state and federal prisons and also by a young mother who lives in my city and resides in an exceedingly small apartment with two young children. She recently has been laid off and lost her access to daycare. She takes her kids outside for one hour a day for fresh air and exercise or sometimes longer on a nice day. “Just like the prisoners in the supermax” she told me and laughed. She used to go grocery shopping with the kids but now given the virus, she does not dare expose them nor do stores want extra individuals in the stores. She really needs someone to pick up a few things at the grocery store or to watch her children for a short time so she can make the trip.
I have been very lucky that having to shelter in place has not been a hardship and I have enjoyed it.  While I share the anxieties of many individuals, my family has been very fortunate too.

Shelter in Place
My wife has been very blessed to be able to work from home. Her daily commute is from the bedroom to the office saving several hours a day of typical commute time. She has been able to stay focused and connected and still manages to squeeze in laundry between conference calls.
My daughter and grandson have been staying with my wife and I, and it has allowed us all to connect more and have great talks. My daughter is a working Mother, and this has allowed her slow down her pace and focus on work and school. She gets a break while I play with my grandson.
Our normally quiet but spacious home has become, an office, a three-star restaurant (my opinion as I do the cooking), a pre-school, and a gym but most important it is filled with laughter.

However, for those coping with anxiety or depression, being thrusted into social isolation can be particularly destabilizing. They have developed normal schedules and routines that help them to successfully and effectively live their lives with meaning and purpose. Going to work, meeting with friends for coffee, going to the gym, participating in a Yoga class, or attending a book club meeting, all of these options, almost overnight. ceased to exist because of the Coronavirus.
With the problems and benefits I have observed during this period of social isolation, I saw that we as human beings have a strong urge or essential need for social connections. We crave social contact as we sometimes crave food. This is true for all individuals but, I believe, was made more acute by the threat of COVId-19.

For me, Freemasonry means the masonic ritual is not just a ceremony but a teaching to be lived. Freemasonry becomes a way of life. If I did not act or do something, I would not be practicing the oath that I took.  My entire work life I had to create solutions to urgent problems and to act quickly. For me to be able to remove those anxieties and fears was a piece of cake,

I had developed a list of Widows, Brothers, and friends that I call every few days and to see how they are doing. Many of them live alone and their grown children are living several states away and daily life can be lonely for them. I would ask them for a list of groceries they needed, and if there was any anything to be picked up at the pharmacy. I would bring the needed items to their home and place them on their doorstep. I would ring the doorbell, and step back up to allow for social distancing. Everyone was eager for a conversation. I did learn to bring a lawn chair, for some of those talks could last awhile.

The time we are living can be filled with much uncertainty and we should protect and take care of ourselves and our loved ones.  But if you could find a way in your heart to spend a little time on a simple act of kindness for a lodge brother, a widow, or a neighbor, you will find yourself among many others who have found that we can change the world for the better one act at a time.

Freemasonry is my way of life, and I found another place to live my Obligation