Once, somewhere in a beautiful, simple part of the world, there were two brothers, who were born only a few years apart.
Their father was a farmer, as his father had been before him, and his father’s father, before that.
When the boys were young they often took care of each other while he worked the farm, which was quite large.
In the mornings they ate breakfast together and often would then spend the day roaming the fields, hills, and woods of the expansive farmland. The brothers became the best of friends and were always by each other’s side.
As they grew older, they would walk the long way to school and back home together. When they got home in the afternoon, there were always chores to do and things to help their father with. Between tending the animals and other work, there was always plenty to do. The neighbors would watch them, smiling, and remark that the two boys were inseparable.
And so time passed, and the brothers grew into adulthood, side by side at everything they did. The years went by and when the father grew too old to work the farm as he had done his whole life, he divided it, giving each one of his sons, half.
The brothers then built their own farms on the land they had been given.
The farms lay across from one another in a portion of land that sat in the beautiful, lush, valley. A fairly wide and lively stream ran between them, and horses and cows grazed in the green meadows at either side. The soil was rich and clean. Healthy crops grew in abundance.
For years the brothers farmed like this, helping each other along as needed. They shared their tools and farm equipment and lent each other a hand when the work got thick in the Spring and the cows were calving, or it was planting time. And later in the Summer, when it came to making hay. When late Autumn came, they gathered up the food they had grown and split the harvest with one another.
After long, hard days of work, they could often be found in the evenings swimming or fishing, in the stream. They would watch the sunset over the hill while they talked about the day, and how their farms were doing. The brothers remained close and were still the best of friends.
One year passed into another, full with life and all of its happenings. In this way, it came to be that forty years went by, and it still seemed to many that the two would never be separated.
But one day, the brothers quarreled. …..It was their first serious disagreement, ever.
What started as a little misunderstanding, quickly grew into a larger argument.
The older brother was sure that the entire thing was the younger brother’s fault.
The younger brother was just as convinced that the older brother was to blame.
Their voices grew louder and before long, they were shouting at each other, saying terrible, hurtful things. This …..had never happened between them.
After that day, it wasn’t long before they stopped speaking to one another entirely.
The longer the silence, the more their anger grew. They no longer helped each other, nor did they share their food or tools. In the evenings, they stayed away altogether from the stream where they had met almost every night for years.
Before long, weeks went by, and then months. It seemed as if the break would not mend, and the brothers would never reconcile again. Neither of them felt at ease. The entire incident sat between them in a heaviness that pulled their spirits down.
One morning, as the younger brother was getting to start the day’s work, there was a knock on his door. Grumbling to himself, he opened it. Before him stood a tall man. He had a gentle, pleasant face with weathered skin, and held a toolbox in one of his strong hands.
The man said hello, and introduced himself. He continued, saying he was a carpenter in need of work for a few days and wondered if the younger brother had any small jobs that needed doing on the farm.
In a sudden burst of inspiration, the younger brother said that in fact, he did.
Pointing to the farm across the stream, he told the carpenter that his brother and he were quarreling and that it was all the older brothers fault. He continued, saying that he was so angry at his brother that he did not ever want to see him again.
He then instructed the carpenter to take whatever lumber lay in the barn and build a fence as high as he could, so that his brother’s property and house were no longer visible from his. He said to build it 10 feet high at least, if not 20. Whatever it took to block his view.
The carpenter was quiet for a moment. And then he said “I think I understand the situation. I can do a job that pleases you.”
The younger brother helped the carpenter pull all the materials together. They hauled the tools, lumber, and nails that were needed down to the stream. The younger brother looked one last time at his brother’s farm, and then turned his back and left to go to town for the day.
As his truck disappeared down the road and over the hill, the carpenter began to work. Many thoughts about the two brothers filled his mind while he sawed, hammered, and joined.
He was skilled, and as the day grew hotter his progress did not slow. Just as the sun was going down over the hill, the carpenter hammered in the last nail.
As he was loading his tools into the truck, the younger brother came home. He hurried down to the stream, excited to see the fence he had requested. But as he got closer, he slowed down, and then stopped completely.
He could not believe what he saw and stood for a time in silence. There was no fence there, at all.
Instead, there was ……a bridge.
It was a simple bridge, but it was finely built, and it was very sturdy. It stretched in a gentle arc across the stream, from his side to his brothers.
He took in the sight for a while, and let it settle in his mind. As he did, he saw his brother coming across the bridge toward him – arms outstretched.
“Thank you,” his brother said “for building this bridge after all that has passed between us. ”
The younger one walked down and the two met in the middle, while the stream slipped by underneath. At first, the brothers shook hands. But soon they hugged each other and found themselves apologizing for all the anger, and the hurtful things they had said and done. And all was reconciled again.
As they turned to thank the carpenter, they saw he was lifting the last toolbox into his truck.
The younger brother called over and asked him to stay—that they could keep him busy for a few more days with other projects that still needed to be done.
But the carpenter smiled as he wiped his brow, and said. “I’d love to stay but I must go. There are many more bridges in this world needing to be built.”
And so the brothers thanked him and watched him drive away. From that day on they agreed that if there ever was another conflict, they would meet in the middle of the bridge and work it through, together.
Forgiveness is a bridge over which compassion walks.