Reprinted with permission from the Masonic Service Association of North America.
Short Talk Bulletin Vol.91 No.10
Children are looking for someone to inspire them, someone who demands more of them than they do of themselves. Someone to show them their true potential. For me, this person came in the form of a Junior High music teacher named Mr. Howard. At all slender man with a boyish look, except for his Tom Selleck-style mustache, he was different because he was one of the few that cared for the poor students as well as the best.
The first time I went into his class, I sat in the back of the room as I always did, which tells every teacher all they need to know. I was wearing the uniform of the troubled teen, ripped jeans, long black oily hair, and Kurt Cobain t-shirt. It screamed of the bad boy persona that I was cultivating. I was troubled teen, much more troubled than most.
With my parents divorced, I was living with a struggling single mother. Many responsibilities fell on me to contribute monetarily to the family for rent and other needs. My work schedule as a laborer on a farm, and being severely dyslexic, made me contemplate dropping out of school. I was on my last chance at school. I already had been kicked out of my last school for fighting. I was failing almost every class. As I look back, I can see that the fights and my misbehavior were direct reactions to my learning disability.
I was put into a music class, not so much because of my interest, but because it was one of the few classes I hadn't gotten kicked out of yet. Mr. Howard commented on my leg moving up and down in a nervous manner. “Awake from your day dream! You have good rhythm going with that leg. Want to use that nervous energy to create something? “ he asked abruptly. "I'd rather destroy," I said, having listened to much punk rock and watching too many 80'saction movie villains. "Sometimes you must destroy to clear the way and create something new," Mr. Howard replied. "Sometimes the desire to create is in your blood; music is in your blood. There are no words to express the inexpressible; however in music we can come close. You are indeed in need of a positive outlet, much as I was at your age." He didn't just kick me out of class, he rationalized with me and it worked. His words made me think.
After a few classes on music history and a little experience with Mozart's The Magic Flute, I was placed in front of a drum set. Mr. Howard's only words were, "Now it is your time -- destroy to your heart's content." I began to play, the class faded away. As my pounding percussions came to the fore front, I felt the pressure of the world slide off my back like rain off an umbrella. All of my problems were forgotten, blurred into the distance, hammered out by the pounding, shamanistic rhythm of my drums. For the first time I knew what freedom was.
Freedom from judgments of others, freedom from my troubles at home. Freedom was a real thing for the first time. I pounded away on that drum set and, in the wink of an eye, the whole school day had passed. When the bell rang, it was as if I awoke from a dream. That was that day I found a passion that I would enjoy the rest of my life.
I began to play the drums during all of my study halls. At home I put together a makeshift drum set out of buckets and PVC pipes. Trash lids, saw blades, old pots and pans were used for cymbals. I played until my hands where chapped, and bleeding. I learned to play most of my favorite songs on the radio. I even started my own band with some friends, and began playing gigs at local bars. I earned enough to quit my farm job.
Mr. Howard showed me that if I applied myself, anything is possible. I started putting the same intensity into my studies and my grades shot up. I was shown how to read music and, while reading all the lyrics from my favorite bands, my reading ability exploded to new heights. Performing the drum solo in Wipe Out at the big, end-of the-year performance gave me the confidence to get over my stage fright. During one of my performances, I saw my mother crying. It was the first time she knew she wouldn't have to worry about me -- that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I graduated from high school and then from a four-year university. I continued to play music. I would go on to learn the guitar, bass, harp, banjo, mandolin and even the saw. I have played in numerous rock bands. Songs I have written have been recorded and played on radio stations. During tours through the East Coast, I always wondered if I would see Mr. Howard again. I had lost track of him, and had no way to thank him for all he had done for me to change my life course.
Recently, after receiving my 32nd Degree in the Scottish Rite in Syracuse, NY, I was sitting down to eat, when I heard my name, "Kevin." I looked up to see my former mentor, who, unknown to me, was a Masonic brother and had been randomly seated at my table. I knew who it was in an instant; he still had that boyish face I remembered and the Tom Selleck mustache. As we conversed, he said to call him, Steve, but I kept slipping back to, "Mr. Howard."
We talked and caught up on the last 20 years. I told him of the path I had been on and how he shaped it. I told him I always tried to give something back, whether I am volunteering in the local prisons or giving music lessons to those with developmental disabilities. I am only able to help these individuals because of the help he gave me all those years ago.
Not a day goes by that I don't think of how I might have ended up and the thought scares me. Every time I walk into a prison I can't help but think that it could have been me on the other side of the bars. Mr. Howard listened to me uncharacteristically brag for quite some time of my musical and financial accomplishments and my volunteer work. He seemed moved to have been a part of my journey.
Then he looked at me sternly and asked me what office I held back up in North StarLodge #107. He told me of the great respect he has for the Masonic degrees and the joy he gets from taking a part in them. He talked about how, by memorizing the different parts of the degrees, he was able to build what is called a memory palace. Using the description of Solomon's Temple given in Book of Kings, he would subscribe each passage of the ritual with a specific room. These mnemonic strategies also helped him remember coworkers' and students' names. In his music career, the strategies helped him memorize long difficult tempo-shifting songs. He also told me what a great feeling and a great honor it was to be elected the Worshipful Master of his Lodge. I was, once again, inspired by this man who had already given me such a rich source of inspiration.
Since talking with him that day, I have memorized parts of the Masonic ritual and gained new insight and appreciation for our degree work and our great brotherhood. I have to thank him for that.
You do not have to look any farther than your lodge to find a blueprint for greater achievement. An inspirational person will be there. All you have to do is ask him the right questions, and learn as much as you can from the older generation of brothers. Soon it will be your tum to be called on to be that inspirational person for others, not only in the lodge but everywhere you go.
Information about the author
Brother Kevin Pentalow, of Brushton, NY, is a full time law enforcement officer; and also teaches music and instructs snow boarders. He is a published author and poet, whose writing achieved the NPR short fiction award in 2002. He is a well-respected icon painter, musician and songwriter, known for his diverse music projects. He is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of The University of New York at Potsdam and holds degrees in graphic design and psychology. Brother Pentalow regularly attends and has held several offices in North Star Lodge#107 in Brushton, where he was raised. Heis a member of the Scottish Rite Valleys ofNorwood and Syracuse, NY He and his wife, Rebecca, have two children, and enjoy outdoor activities.