For my family and me, Friday, July 13, 2013, was not a day to be scared of what might happen; in fact, it started out as a great day. We had just finished remodeling the kitchen, and as teachers, my wife and I were out for summer vacation with our two teenage children! That particular day, we had decided to go out for lunch and then we would do some shopping. On the way home, we received an unexpected phone call. My sister-in-law called to tell us that our house was on fire. We quickly got home to watch our home finish burning. It was a total loss. We literally only had the clothes on our backs.
That evening, as we sat at my parents’ house, needless to say, we were devastated. I finally looked at my phone and to my shock had over 100 missed calls and messages. About ninety percent of them were from Shriners! As I stared at my phone deciding who to call back first, it rang. A Past Potentate was on the other end. His conversation consisted of only three sentences: “Is everyone ok?” “Where are you staying?” And “I’m on my way.”
He made the hour and half ride to my small town. He told me he figured I would need a shirt for church and handed me one and told me to hang it up. I did so immediately. I was amazed at the thoughtful gesture, but was even more shocked Sunday when I put it on and found money in the pocket. That was only the beginning of the generosity I was to experience. Later on that evening, our current Potentate called to see what we needed. I assured him we would be fine. He told me he was going out of town on business and offered my family the use of his home. The next few days were a whirlwind of calls, gifts, and support. We even had to get two storage units to hold all of the items we had received until we could get into a new home.
August came and we had already made plans to attend the South Eastern Shrine Clown Association annual convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. My wife and I discussed cancelling our reservations, but I was scheduled to be installed as the President of the South Eastern Shrine Clown Association (SESCA). We decided that even though we still didn’t have a home of our own yet, we would take this opportunity to relax with our children before school started the next week. I cannot tell you the love and brotherhood I felt at that convention. I received the same support from countless other Shrine Temples that I received from my own. You might expect that sort of selflessness from your own group, but it is totally unbelievable when you experience it from Nobles from across the country.
During the business meeting, one brother, Kenny, came up with his clown group and presented me with a sports coat and several SESCA shirts so I could “look like a President should.” During the fundraising auction, Nobles bought the items and put them in front of me as a gift. One man, John, placed a bid on two homemade quilts only to give them to my daughter.
The outgoing President, Jim, shocked us even more. He was making his farewell speech before I took over and said, “Guys you have really helped out our incoming President, but my wife and I wanted to do something for his children.” He then proceeded to give both of my children a generous gift by replacing some items they had lost.
Finally, it was time for me to be installed. Unfortunately, my President’s fez was delivered the week before our fire, and it was one of the many things we lost, so I knew that would not be a part of the ceremony. I had planned on simply taking my oath without a fez. That was not to be. After I took my oath, my daughter came up and put a NEW fez on my head and kissed my cheek. I was confused as to where it came from. I later learned that my Shrine Temple went ahead and ordered the replacement fez as soon as they learned of our loss.
The generosity continued even after we got home. We received countless items in the mail; many did not even have a return address or even a name attached. They only had a card wishing us well. I talked to the Potentate and explained how this was all too much, how it was even embarrassing. Now this man is not known for sugar coating his words. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “Get over it! Accept some brotherly love and affection.” That is exactly what I experienced first-hand, brotherly love and affection.
I cannot begin to repay the debt I owe. I cannot even express the gratitude I still have when we were flooded by Nobles wanting to assist us. Men I did not even know stepped up to help my family and me. Not because they like me. Not because they needed to. Not because they felt obligated. Not even because I was a high ranking or influential member. These Shriners helped us because quite simply, that is what Shriners do. They help people.