It has always puzzled me why, when two aircraft just miss each other, it is called a ‘near-miss’. Surely it would be more correct to call it a ‘near-hit’, and we have recently had a tragic demonstration of what happens when a near-hit becomes a direct-hit.
As I write this I am sitting in the garden surrounded by evidence of life. I can see a butterfly fluttering round a bush. I can hear a bird showing off his vocal range. I can feel my own heart beating. I am not a fatalist, but I do recognise that at any moment the butterfly may stop, the bird fall silent and my heart seize up for ever.
Some of us, without flying in aircraft, have had first-hand experience of near-hits, either for ourselves or for those close to us. I am thinking of a heart attack caught in the nick of time, of a stroke which, mercifully, leaves no pronounced long-lasting effects, of an apparently fatal disease cured against the odds, of a near-hit on the motorway, of other near-terminal situations.
If you can, you may want to go somewhere quiet now to read this, in calm and tranquillity, to relate fully to it. I want to look at what happens to us in these situations. A person who has been involved in a near-hit very often knows that it can be followed by something wonderful. He has been granted a reprieve. Previously, he may have been always busy with the everyday things of life, the seemingly important matters, his job, his house, his car, his material well-being and advancement, even affairs in his lodge. But after such a near-hit he sees life with a cleared vision, a different level of consciousness. The relative importance of different aspects in his life undergoes a seismic change. His job – there’s nothing so important that he can’t afford to walk away from it. His house – now he comes to look at it, it’s far nicer than he thought. At the same time, the value assigned to other things becomes hugely significant. He finds he is driving too fast on the motorway – no need for that. He finds time to take some physical exercise, time he never had before. He manages his working hours much better, paces himself. It is as though a veil has been lifted. For myself, whether or not I finish this article is not a life-threatening matter. Sitting here in the garden, I can relate to so much that really matters.
And my friend in the example above is re-born. In addition to his new view of himself and his place in the scheme of things, his relationship to those around him also is thrown into sharper focus. He may instantly recall those moments in his life or in the life of a loved-one which had real value, moments which in themselves seemed insignificant before. A morning spent sitting looking at the sea in bright sunshine, during which he and his loved-one were in perfect harmony; some silly object they laughed at together in a junk shop. In themselves meaningless episodes, until invested with the richness of a personal relationship of depth and value, greater depth and greater value than perhaps he might have suspected before the near-hit. I submit that such a man, at such a level of conscious awareness, is at the centre.
For those of us who have been spared the trauma of a near-hit, and even for those of us who have not, a little meditation on the lessons of the third degree can be very rewarding. Remember Edward Elgar’s device for freeing himself from chaos? He went out into the country to be with himself and to find his own song, in other words to find his way to the centre. Liberated in this way, he could die to his material self, to be re-born to a different awareness and produce great, inspired music. The aim, for each of us, is to discern greater richness and beauty than before, to own our Corinthian column. In Elgar’s case, it was to discern the beauty of music, but in our case perhaps to perceive the beauty of existence, reprieved from the fate that so short a time before stared us in the face.
Freeing ourselves in this way from the constraints of materialism, bringing our real nature to the fore and validating the goodness and the beauty in each one of us, thereby reaching a different level of consciousness, has to be the most richly rewarding masonic experience that can ever touch us.
Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.
-Henry James 1843-1916