Walls or Bridges?

I used to tell a story in my days working in libraries with kids, and its been on my mind lately. I know reading is not the same as hearing, but do your best to hear it being told…

Once upon a time there were two neighbors who were also farmers and friends. They’d been all three for almost forty years. Trading stories, tools, helping each other put up hay–all the things that farmers, neighbors, and friends do for each other.

And then one day they had a falling out. Oh, it was over something stupid, like Paul lost Joe’s favorite hay rake; or Joe called Paul a name in jest and Paul took it wrong. What they argued about doesn’t really matter because the next day Paul took his tractor and dug a big ditch between the two men’s properties. Water from the top of the hill searched out the ditch and now a decent-sized creek was the boundary line between the two farms, when before, there had been none.

There was a terrible silence between the two men for weeks.

One day Joe looked up from working in the barn to see a man standing in the doorway. He was carrying a wooden tool box that was well filled with awls, rasps, screws, and nails. He had two saws in a pack on his back. “G’mornin,” he said with an easy smile. “Got any projects you need done or things you might need fixin’?”

Joe thought a bit and then smiled back. “You’ve come at a good time. Follow me.” Joe led the carpenter down to the rushing stream. “Ya see this crick? T’wasn’t here three weeks ago. My neighbor put it in to spite me, and I’m mighty mad about the whole thing. I want you to build me a nice wall with that pile a lumber I have in the barn. And I’ll pay ya well if ya do a good job.”

The carpenter nodded. “I have just the project in mind for you. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I have to go to town today,” Joe told the carpenter. “I can get ya more wood if you think you’ll need some.”

“I think this will be plenty,” the carpenter told him. He took his saws from his sack, spread his tools on the ground, and hurried off to haul the lumber he needed to get to work.

When Joe returned from town late in the afternoon, his jaw dropped at the sight. There across the creek was a graceful wooden bridge with sturdy railings and a deck big enough to support a tractor or a truck or a wagon. And there on the other side of the bridge was his neighbor Paul waving and smiling. He crossed the bridge and grabbed Joe’s hand, shaking it up and down with abandon. “I have to say I don’t know what possessed you to have this bridge built after these last weeks of ugliness between us, but I am so glad you did. I’ve wondered and wondered how we could ever make a bridge over what happened, and dog gone it, you went and done it. Built a bridge right over it.” He shook his head in amazement.

Joe was stunned into silence, but he had a grin smeared all over his face. “T’wasn’t me,” he finally stuttered to his friend. “It was this here carpenter gent’s work.”

They turned to look at the carpenter who was packing up his tools. Joe called to him, “Please don’t go. I got several other projects for ya — you did a fine job on this one.”

The carpenter shook his head and smiled.  He shouldered his saws, picked up his tool box, and waved at the two friends. “I can’t stay,” he told them. “I’ve got other bridges to build.” And with those last words he disappeared over the hill.

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We live in a world that builds walls, but bridge building can be done by anyone–you don’t have to be a carpenter or an engineer. What kind of bridge can you build? A footbridge? A covered bridge? Or a glorious bridge that overcomes fear and unforgiveness? Imitate the carpenter–love your neighbor and build a bridge, not a wall.

This story has been around for a long time, mostly as Author Unknown. I found it as “Old Joe and the Carpenter” in Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell by Pleasant DeSpain. Margaret Read MacDonald published a version by the same name in Peace Tales. When I searched the internet I found an original version–much longer and more colorful–as a story On the Hills and Everywhere written by Manly Wade Wellman (ca. 1956) in a book of stories called John the Balladeer.  This is my own version. 

the double yellow line in the middle of the road

The double yellow line in the middle of roads means Do Not Cross. If the road is painted correctly, every time there is a spot where a driver needs to turn, the double yellow lines are changed to single dashes, just so the driver of the car won’t be breaking any laws by making a turn.

Our country has become a road painted with double yellow lines. One side stays on the left; the other side stays on the right. And no one crosses the double yellow lines.

I’ve always tried to keep this blog politics free. Mostly because I’m the only one who agrees with my political views. Conservative on some issues and liberal on others, it’s no wonder I can never find anyone for whom to vote…

I didn’t vote for him.

I didn’t vote for her either.

I am one of those millions of displaced voters who didn’t like either choice. I need a different party, a third party, that’s located somewhere near the double yellow lines in the middle of the road.

I need a different kind of leader: one who is kind, compassionate, cares about people, is true to their beliefs, and unafraid to stand for honesty or do the right thing. Someone who isn’t crude, crass, or speaking out of both sides of their mouth. A Gentleman. Or perhaps, a Lady.

During the debates I did write a post poking fun at both of them; but it languished in my drafts until the election was over, and by then it was pointless. I never posted it because I didn’t want to join the ear-piercing, country-dividing, online dissonance.

I still don’t.

It reminds me of the sixties when the country was divided over the Vietnam War, race issues, women’s issues, and sex. Old people said the young kids were going to hell; young kids said the old folks were rigid, straight, and out of date.

The country is still divided over war, race issues, women’s issues, and sex. Add immigration, the environment, and trade wars and, well…. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Or maybe this one: There is nothing new under the sun…(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Last week, I was an unhappy Republican. This week, I am an unhappy Democrat. All it took for me to switch parties (on the last day that I could before the primaries) was a letter from the president. With his picture on the envelope. Nope, not gonna happen again. I don’t want anyone — even the mailman — thinking he was my choice.

I guess that’s why the country is divided on either side of the double yellow line,

and the only answer I have is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31)

You mean politicians are my neighbors? Yep, it’s hard.