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The American Freemason - May 1912

Four centuries ago a Spanish patriot having yielded after long and hopeless fight against oppression, was doomed to death. While waiting the hour of execution he thus wrote his wife: 

If your grief did not affect me more than my death, I should now deem myself happy. For the end of life being certain to all men, the Almighty confers a mark of distinguishing favor upon that person for whom He appoints such manner of death as mine, which though lamented by many, is nevertheless acceptable and well to be borne by him. 

Don John Padilla indulged in no heroics. The stresses and the crises of his life and death were the real tests of his heroism. 

As these lines are written the echoes of a great tragedy are still to be heard, thrown back and forth between the continents. Even morbid curiosity has been sated with the details of unprecedented disaster that have come to us from the engulfing seas. Here is no place, nor is mine the pen, to repeat aught of the awful story. The elements have again asserted their mastery over man, and have again made cruel mockery of his strife against their strength. This is the hour that comes, now and then to the generations - the hour of humiliation and defeat, that so men may not in pride and boastfulness forget their mortality, nor the frailty of their handiwork. 

Yet though the elements may have dealt their heaviest stroke, still is man the victor. For there as been thus proven anew, in a time when perhaps new proof was needed, that courage has not weakened, nor has the moral fiber of manhood decayed. Peace and luxury and the worship of Mammon have, after all, but hidden and disfigured with a false and thin veneer the enduring qualities of courage and devotion and supreme self-sacrifice. Again we know that in the moment of crisis men can look with steady and level eyes into the very face of death, and meet whatever be the blow of Fate with hearts unafraid. In the image of God was man created, and the god-likeness has ever shown clearest in moments of utmost peril. 

The story of the Titanic disaster will live long in the consciousness of the race. It will pass into the splendid record of the soul's nobility, and will serve far in the future as incentive and example. Among the tenderest, most cherished memories of the nations will be preserved the picture of those gallant men, holding back every show of grief while they parted from the ones they loved, lest in the imminent moment these should lose all heart and hope. 

Is Nelson's famous signal at Trafalgar more worthy of remembrance by the English-speaking peoples than the plain sea-captain's words, "Men, remember that you are British!" These words had the inspiration of a bugle-call, and common, un-named men, hearing the simple sentence, felt the old pride of race, and were ready for any sacrifice. It is well for the world," despite all croakings of pessimists, when among such as these it can be shown that stamina and endurance and the well-knitted texture of soul have not weakened, and that the toiler can rise on call of occasion from the sordidness of life to the full majesty of death. To the memory of the dead men of that crew - the men of the engine-room, and the deeper places of the fires, and those of the upper decks - there is needed no monument. Because they died thus nobly, quietly, in the way of duty, others of their kind and race will in times of peril yet to be gain heart of courage. 

Never before, perhaps, in the history of the world had sudden disaster applied the same and highest test to men widely separated as the poles in thought and manner of life - in all that life can mean. And never before to such a test has the response given like exemplification of the Brotherhood of Man. I can imagine in those last awful moments that the millionaire, the man of letters, the soldier, the seaman and the laborer drew nearer to each other, giving and receiving courage. Each one stood fast in his place, or shrank away, as he was endowed with or lacked the elemental qualities of real manhood. 

Not as meek martyrs went those to death; not as saints, with ecstatic vision fixed on Heaven, and heedless of mortality. For most of them the future was filled with promise and hope and love. Yet who can say for them a nobler, more meaningful word than that they went to their deep-sea grave as MEN. 

Out beyond the sinking ship were the boats filled with agonized women and children. On the tilted decks were those about to die, waiting with firm-set lips the final plunge of that great palace of the sea. And on the still night air rose the notes of the universal hymn, heard ever in hours of trial or of helplessness or of sorrow, "Nearer My God, to Thee!" To what more appropriate sentiment, or with what truer stimulus to courage than is in the familiar cadences could these men have died? The wild-eyed mob may be incited to carnage and destruction by the fierce chant of the "Internationale;" the soldier rush to the "imminent breach" carried on by the battle-song of his race. But the man who with stern-set face looks on the sudden-shown front of death, will turn instinctively to that faith which has ineradicable roots in every human heart. 

There were Masons among those who thus died. Let us hope they were of those who died well, manfully, and with quiet faith. How many of our brothers perished I do not know. One of them I met a few months ago in the Lodge room - the quiet, self-contained man, with all the courtesy and high-bearing of a soldier. The survivors tell us of his place in the last picture - of this brother leaning out to the departing boats, the hat raised in instinctive courtesy, speaking words of kindliness and cheer, and with a smile upon his lips. I can best catch the spirit of that leave-taking in these lines: 

Whether we shall meet again, I know not,  
Therefore our everlasting farewell take; -  
Forever and forever, farewell, Cassius!  
If we do meet again, why we shall smile, If not, why then this parting was well made. 

No carpet knight was this, but a prince among men; in every way worthy to die in such gallant, goodly company. God's benison be upon their souls! They were all our brothers - ALL WERE MEN!

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Last modified: March 22, 2014