By Julie Bifano-Boe

The Beatles said it in such a simple, yet significant way, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Through the triumphs and sorrows of life, Masonic friendships, rooted in trust, respect, and mutual appreciation, offer strength, joy, and courage. What brings brothers together? Sometimes, friendships can begin with a simple hello. Such was the case for Robert “Bob” Schwartz and Kjell Bomark-Noel.

About a year ago, during lunchtime at the Masonic Home of Union City, Schwartz and Bomark-Noel began to converse in an unusual way. Shortly before they met, Bomark-Noel had suffered several strokes that limited in his ability to communicate. Yet Schwartz recognized a kinship in his brother and struck up a conversation. It was the beginning of what has become a deeply meaningful friendship.

“If Kjell gets stuck on a word, I wait for him to try and come up with it. Sometimes I will guess, and he will shake his head, yes or no,” says Schwartz. Because of the stroke, Bomark-Noel has also lost mobility in one arm. During meals, Schwartz sits beside Bomark-Noel, helping cut his food and interpreting what he’s trying to say.

Humor is an important component of their friendship, says Schwartz. “At dinnertime, our table is always laughing. If we run out of things to chat about, we make things up!” he says. “Kjell has a very good sense of humor.”

Bomark-Noel agrees. “I admire Bob’s ability to deal with dry humor,” he says.

Bomark-Noel has “trained” the Masonic Homes servers to ensure he has his favorite dessert – strawberry ice cream – every day. He likes to tease Schwartz about his dieting, encouraging him to let himself enjoy a treat. Sometimes Schwartz does give in, and will share a half a piece of cake with his friend.

A past master of Crow Canyon Lodge No. 551 in Union City and member of Columbia-Brotherhood Lodge No. 370 in Oakland, Bomark-Noel was a lawyer before retiring. Schwartz was a chef and belonged to Home Lodge No. 721 in Los Angeles. Yet despite their differing professional and geographic backgrounds – Schwartz hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota and Bomark-Noel from Bergen, Norway – they share the commonality of their Masonic brotherhood.

“Going through the degrees, you learn a lot about human relationships and how to get along with people,” says Schwartz. “You build mutual respect for each other, regardless of who you are or where you came from. Everyone is on a level playing field.” Bomark-Noel adds that Masonic friendships are rooted in strength because of the common belief in a deity.

The men also share a history as pilots, and they love to reminisce about flying. Both gentlemen flew private planes, and Bomark-Noel served first in the Air Force and later in the reserves. “Kjell has a strong will,” Schwartz says.

Schwartz taught himself to play piano and he plays in the Masonic Home lobby, as well as during cocktail hour. Upstairs, residents can hear his music while they play cards. It’s easy to imagine how delightful this music is for residents who are unable to come downstairs in the evenings. Bomark-Noel has enjoyed hearing his friend’s music on several occasions.

Both men appreciate how comfortable it is to live at the Masonic Homes. The friendly atmosphere makes it easy to connect with new friends. Schwartz explains that all the residents are willing to help each other, and to welcome one another with open arms and gratitude. It is a place where it is common for deep friendships to blossom.

Schwartz has learned more about his own capacity for growth through his friendship with Bomark-Noel. “I’ve learned more about life – what it’s all about,” he says. “Maybe it’s about helping someone. When you get to our age and you see what other people have gone through, your thought process changes. You find a greater appreciation for what you have.”

“I’ve learned through Bob to take each day as it comes,” says Bomark-Noel."

Bomark-Noel and Schwartz demonstrate that like music, friendship satisfies the soul. Their caring relationship shows how challenges can be overcome with patience, creativity, and brotherly love. In the connections brothers have with each other, they come together despite their differences and discover their own capacity for joy and growth.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Randolph

Keep reading by exploring more articles that share common topics.



More from this issue: