Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

I just received an email from a long-time, respected member of the Odd Fellows, which really made me contemplate our new reality.

Here is what the member told me: “I just had a job interview over zoom at home with a panel of people who were also at home. For all we knew, we were all in our underwear sitting on unmade beds drinking mimosas! One panelist put up a photo of herself and seemingly left the meeting. Another, put up a list of questions on the screen. I was not informed whether the meeting was recorded. It was very weird, in a Captain Kangaroo sort of way. I received a ‘do not reply’ rejection letter within two hours. It’s no wonder that students are not remotely checking in with their teachers.”

In California, and across the United States, we have been in some state of lock-down, shelter-in-place, work-from-home, since the middle of March. This flies in the face of our DNA. Humans are social animals, but our interaction with most other humans has, for months now, been electronic. We use our personal computers, our laptops, our cell phones to speak to voices, or to two-dimensional images on a screen. And what about the very elderly among us, or the technologically challenged, or those with poor Internet connectivity – who are unwilling or unable to use their cell phones, or navigate zoom? Even worse, how about those among us who live completely alone?

Life for many has become lonely. Reality for almost everyone has become an imitation of a life we used to know.

School has become virtual. Work has become virtual. Even ordering food or shopping has become virtual for many. And the new reality is particularly challenging for fraternal orders – like the Odd Fellows. Members of a fraternity are, by nature and temperament, social. No one joins a fraternal order to isolate themselves. People join for many reasons, of course, but everyone knows that joining a fraternal order means interacting with friends. Fraternities are sometimes eleemosynary, they are often beneficial, but they are always social.

In a crisis like a fire, or earthquake, or flood, or war – our natural tendency is to seek companionship and comfort with others. These events tend to increase the bonds of fraternity. Yet a pandemic – as we face at present – explodes that closeness. We can’t clasp hands, or pat each other’s backs, or hug one another. We have to do the exact opposite and distance ourselves from each other. This can be devastating to a fraternal order, particularly when we don’t know when the endgame will play out. Will this end in June, July, August? Will we be in this separate state of reality till the Fall? Till the Winter? Till 2021? When will we be able to gather again in our Lodge Halls?

In spite of all this uncertainty, it is inspiring to see Lodge members use their fertile imaginations to stay connected. Odd Fellow Lodges have scheduled zoom meetings, have set up telephone trees, have set up committees to shop for and deliver food to elderly members, have found ways to check on the mental and physical health of members, have organized walks, and have met in small group (with appropriate social distancing) to stay connected.

In the history of Odd Fellowship in North America, we have faced many community crises – be they diseases, fires or wars – and we have always come out of those crises resilient and strong. These crises test us. The current crisis is a great test. But we are a great fraternity – and we will help one another prevail.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows

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