Life’s Little Bridges
By Brother Mark van Dijk
Address at Lodge De Goede Verwachting
21 January 2016
The fundamental principles of geometry are contained in the Elements, a series of ancient textbooks compiled by Euclid of Alexandria. Euclid’s work draws a circle around the principal postulates, propositions and proofs of spatial mathematics. For centuries, Elements has ruled a clear, straight line between two kinds of students: those who understand advanced geometry, and those who don’t.
Using Euclid’s Elements, geometry teachers are able to triangulate the exact location where this line is drawn: Book 1, Proposition 5. Here we find the theorem which holds that “if two sides of an isosceles triangle are equal, then the angles opposite those sides are also equal.”
This is known as the pons asinorum: in Latin, the “bridge of donkeys”.
The theory goes that if you can grasp this concept, then you will cross the bridge into advanced geometry. If you cannot, then you’ll be stuck, like a donkey, on the wrong side of the bridge.
As my Standard 8 Maths teacher found, some students are as reluctant to tackle these difficult problems as a donkey is to cross a rickety bridge. Much like a hesitant student, our little donkey would rather sniff at the grass around the pier, flicking its tail at horseflies, than take those dreaded steps to the other side.
Our life, brethren, is peppered with bridges like these. What’s on the other side? Anything we desire: advancement in our professions; progress in our Masonic education; understanding of ourselves; better relations with our loved ones.
Who will cross that bridge? Who shall ascend unto the Holy Hill? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
As the Volume of Sacred Law teaches us, our progress in crossing life’s great bridges depends on our moral character, on our humility, and on our honesty; honesty with our fellowmen and, more difficultly, honesty with ourselves.
It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself, and it’s one I invite all Brethren to ponder: what’s holding us back? What’s keeping us from crossing the bridges in our lives? Is it our behaviour? Is it our pride? Or are we you not asking ourselves the questions that will lead to further light and knowledge?
Brethren, it’s time to cross that bridge. And, as any mathematician will tell you, once you’ve passed over the pons asinorum, the problem – which seemed at first so impossible to solve – often appears quite simple when you’ve crossed to the other side.