Last week I went to a permaculture design certification training at Midwest Permaculture in Stelle, Illinois. While I was there Bill Wilson, one of the incredible trainers and the owner of Midwest Permaculture, told a story about two brothers. I want to relay the story because sometimes our hearts and minds don’t reside with the same thoughts and it is important to listen to both.

Once there were two brothers who grew up as close as any two brothers could be. They were inseparable and people often thought they were twins because they were forever seen playing, talking, and running together. When they grew up they inherited their father’s farm. The brothers split the land and lived side by side. They married at similar times, had families, and their families were close.

One afternoon the brothers had a disagreement. Each was hurt by the words of the other. Each was angry and felt they were in the right. They separated and stormed off.

The first brother told his family they could no longer talk to or visit his brother’s family.

The second brother told his family the same.

Everyone was unhappy.

One afternoon while the first brother took his family in to town, the second brother began to stew. He thought about the argument. His anger was renewed. In a fit of self righteousness and anger he took out his backhoe and created a deep trench between his farm land and that of his brother (incidentally creating a swale and capturing all the water on his property– but that is another story for another time). Tired and feeling vindicated he went home.

When brother number two came home and saw the deep trench, he was furious.

The next day a traveler came down the road. He always carried his tools and when he needed a little food, a place to sleep, or some cash, he would knock on the door of a farmhouse and offer his handyman services. He knocked on the door of brother number two’s house. The brother opened the door and listened intently to the traveler’s proposal. He looked across the yard at the trench and a plot hatched in his mind. He said to the traveler, “I have lumber in the barn. I want you to build me a fence. A tall fence. A mighty tall fence. My brother and I had a falling out and I don’t want to ever see him, his family, or even his farm ever again. I have to go in to town today. Could you build this while I am gone?”

The traveler tilted his head, squinted his eyes, and nodded. “I can set to work right now.”

The brother said, “I will come back from town around dusk and I will pay you for your labor then.” The brother then showed the traveler where the building materials were and left the farm.

All day long the sounds of a hammer and a saw could be heard as the traveler worked.

When the brother pulled into his drive, he looked towards the property line between him and his brother. His eye scanned the length along the still visible trench until he saw a beautifully built bridge. He was furious. He pulled into the yard and jumped out of his pickup truck. He marched towards the traveler.

And then he saw his brother coming across the bridge, wiping at his eyes. He stopped. The traveler stood aside. The first brother walked up to the second and said, “I am so ashamed. I was so angry I was willing to destroy the love between us. I dug that trench to hurt you. And instead of hurting me back you extended a bridge.” The first brother wrapped his arms around the second brother.

As his brother held him the second brother realized he had missed the first brother and he embraced his brother and the two men held one another tight. The second brother said, “We should get everybody together for supper. We need to catch up.”

The first brother nodded and went back across the bridge to collect his family and some food to share.

The second brother turned to the traveler and asked, “Why did you build a bridge? I told you to build a fence. A tall fence.”

The traveler shuffled a bit, shrugged, and said, “Your words said fence but I could hear your heart and it was crying out for a bridge.”

The second brother smiled and nodded. “I have missed my brother. I will come clean and tell him you were the one who made the decision to build the bridge. Because of you we are talking again. I will pay you ten times what I offered this morning. I don’t think I could pay you enough.”

The traveler smiled and said, “Just pay me what we agreed, work things out with your brother, and leave me knowing I did a good deed.”

They shook and everyone broke bread together.

Maybe we can’t always build bridges, but a few more in the world and a little more connectivity between people wouldn’t be a bad thing.