Wandering In The Wilderness – by Toby Hanson, Sovereign Grand Musician

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Toby Hanson 
Sovereign Grand Musician

In my professional life I’m a musician. It’s a lot like being any other kind of tradesman; I look for jobs that will pay me to do what I’m trained to do. There are a couple of differences, though. First, few people are willing to pay money to watch a carpenter frame stud walls. Second, plumbers very rarely worry about whether or not their work is “artistic” when they’re plumbing a bathroom. Other than that, there are a lot of similarities. One of the parts of the job I generally enjoy is the travel I get to do. I’ve gone many places around the Pacific Northwest performing and sometimes I even get to go farther afield for a gig. An experience this week while traveling for Odd Fellowship reminded me of an experience I had on the road as a musician about twenty years ago.

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I was traveling with two other members of my band in an old van. We had been performing in Montana and were headed home. The gigs had been great; we played well, had fun, and made some money. We stopped for lunch and were ready for the long drive back home when the van wouldn’t start. I’m a pretty handy guy and so we did some parking lot diagnostics and discovered that the fuel pump had died. Were I at home I could have put the van up on jack stands, dropped the tank, and swapped out the pump. Two states away from home, however, that wasn’t going to happen. I needed to get the van to a shop and find a place to stay for myself and the two other musicians while we waited for the repair.

I looked in the phone book and found the number of a musician I knew who lived in the area and called him on the pay phone. I explained the situation—that we had broken down and we needed somewhere to stay that we could safely store the instruments while we waited for the repair on the van. Because pretty much every professional musician who has ever toured has had something like this happen we’re usually pretty happy to jump in and help each other. It’s all part of the “brotherhood” of us road warriors. We all know the pressure to get to the gig no matter what circumstances arise and fulfill our obligations. In this case, however, the person I called sounded annoyed that I would ask for his help in my time of need and said it was very inconvenient for him to drive forty minutes up the valley to where we were. He suggested I call someone else who might be more willing and able to help.

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I took his suggestion and called another musician who lived a little closer—I’ll call him Al for the purposes of this article. When I called Al and explained the situation he said he would come right out with his van, pick up our stuff, and even put us up at his house for the duration of our stay. Al came from a very different background that us. He was an amateur musician who played just for fun and rarely felt the pressure of having to meet the demands of a contracted engagement. His career had been serving in the US Air Force as a pilot. He had retired and bought himself a nice house in Montana and spent his time going to various places to play music locally just for his own (and the audience’s) enjoyment. Despite not being a professional he was very understanding of our plight and dropped everything to help us out in our moment of need. It’s a good thing that he did because no sooner than we had loaded our equipment in his van than a hailstorm swept in and pelted everyone with hail.

After a couple days of staying with Al and getting to know he and his wife, my van was repaired and we were ready to get back on the road home. The two extra days we spent in Montana turned out to be a wonderful surprise. Al took us around to some of his performances at local retirement centers where we were able to entertain residents. We stayed up late with Al and his wife talking, laughing, and playing music together. We got to meet some genuinely nice people around town as we went with Al on his various errands. What started out as a crisis turned into a great opportunity.

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If you’re reading this and you’re an Odd Fellow who has taken your Degrees (and remembers them) then you no doubt see the parallels between my experience on the road as a musician and what we teach in our Degrees. The idea of our Degrees is to try and simulate that very experience I had in my time of crisis while on the road playing music. Leaving the safety of home can be dangerous, whether you’re flying down the interstate highway with other musicians from town to town plying your trade or you’re traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho on foot. Those with whom you should have something in common—those who should be sympathetic to the dangers you encounter—don’t always recognize that commonality and come to your aid. Likewise, those who may seem like they would see the differences with you might just be the ones to render assistance in your time of need. Our Degrees try to remind each of us that we should always come to the aid of our brothers and sisters in need because, in the future, it may be one of us who is in need.

The experience I had this week which reminded me of that decades old trip to Montana was my visit to the Grand Lodge of Wyoming. I pulled into town for the meeting only to find that one of my tires had been damaged by a road hazard and needed replacing. Not knowing the town or anything about it, I contacted an Odd Fellow I knew in the area to ask for a recommendation for a tire shop that could give me a good used tire to get me back home. In a remarkable coincidence, the cousin of the Odd Fellow I called runs the local tire shop. With a few phone calls I was able to get my car in early the next morning for a replacement tire and get back on the road shortly. While mutual aid isn’t something we do as much or as often as we used to, it’s still an important aspect of Odd Fellowship and one that I would like to see make a resurgence. Helping brothers and sisters in need shouldn’t be just an abstract concept brought about occasionally as we stumble through a dusty old ceremony a couple times a year; it should be an active part of what we do as members.

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My experiences as an Odd Fellow have only strengthened my belief in Odd Fellowship as I have experienced mutual aid on both ends, as a provider and recipient. The world is a little less harsh and lonely knowing that somewhere out there I can find a brother or sister ready to give aid in my time of need. It also prepares me to be of assistance in someone else’s time of need. Truly knowing the perils of the rough road and the dangers that can befall a traveler, I am ready to be the one to help a brother or sister in need. Nothing makes me more willing to be there for my brothers and sisters than the visceral memory of sitting helpless in a parking lot in Montana.

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