Junior Past Grand Master
Grand Lodge of Washington, IOOF
Sovereign Grand Musician
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Here in the Pacific Northwest we’re not used to being on the forefront of anything. Apart from the occasional successful sports team or the rise of grunge music, we rarely attract attention. Recently, our close ties to Asia have put us on the forefront of the news for a very sobering reason: Coronavirus.
Currently, as I write this, the virus is ransacking our vulnerable populations in Western Washington. Residential care facilities for the elderly have been some of the hardest hit as hundreds are infected and dozens have already succumbed to its morbid conclusion. For the rest of us, we’re dealing with the strange side effects of hysteria like toilet paper shortages in our stores and cancelations of various group activities.
I am self-employed as a musician. This means that I depend on having gatherings of people and public events for about three-quarters of my income. All over Western Washington there are people whose lives are being impacted by the various quarantines and restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the virus. Servers are not getting called into work as traffic at restaurants is down. Caregivers are being stretched thin as they have to work overtime to cover for ill colleagues. Hotels and convention centers are sitting empty with all of their workers idle as events are canceled. The livelihoods of tens of thousands around the region are being threatened as life is torn up and walled off to protect people. All those people, like myself, are looking at a bleak financial future as sources of income are drying up right in front of us. A new initiate, who just joined the Order in late February, asked me a question: what’s going to happen to all of us who are dependent on gatherings of people to make a living? Are the banks going to stop collecting mortgage payments? Will the utilities give us grace periods to get caught up?
The best and most complete answer to this situation is found within the walls of our lodges. Odd Fellowship has its roots in the need of for self-preservation for the most vulnerable in society. The only means by which early working families had of blunting the cruel torrents of life was by contributing to mutual aid groups like the Odd Fellows. In our lodges, they found stability in an unfeeling, unstable world. We provided a measure of comfort when difficult times arrived. Odd Fellowship was never about personal glories or tributes or regalia or amassing acclaim. It was about finding ways to band together and help each other out in difficult circumstances.
It’s at times like this when I wish we would not have abandoned the practice of paying out benefits to our members because these are the times when that kind of beneficial membership would be most valuable. Now would be the time when the Three Links of Odd Fellowship would shine like a beacon of stability when the world is tossed asunder by the crashing swells of chaos. Even without that beneficial membership we’ve abandoned in the past, we still have the solace of knowing our lodges are strong, stable places where we can meet for mutual consolation. I know that if my situation were to become dire my brothers and sisters in lodge would come to my aid in whatever capacity they’re able. Even just knowing they’ve got my back is very reassuring.
Our Order has withstood many challenges to humanity in its many centuries. Just in the two hundred years of the Independent Order we have faced wars, famines, disease outbreaks, natural calamities, and all manner of smaller-scale tragedies. Through it all, we’ve been there to lend a helping hand to our members to ensure that their need does not go unnoticed. We can never know when a major disaster is about to alter our lives in some unsuspecting way. All we can do is be good and faithful Odd Fellows so that we’re prepared to help when called upon. In the common parlance of the Internet, “Today you; tomorrow me.” Our ritual contains the same sentiments, albeit dressed up a little more, but it teaches the same lesson: we can never know when tragedy will strike the mightiest among us and render them weak and helpless. We must always be prepared to extend the hand of charity because we can never know when we’ll be on the giving or the receiving end.
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