See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (RSV)
A Job Well Done
A Folktale retold by Rosie Best-Cutrer
The original story may be found in the North Carolina Folklore Collection and is described this way: “A Job of Work is a story that was told to Manly Wade Wellman by an old man named Green, a bee hunter, living near Bat Cave, Henderson County, North Carolina.”
You might think that John Collins was a lonely man. He lived on this little farm way out in the western plains of Kansas; alone since his wife had died and his only son, Andy, had found a job back east. Yep. You might think that John was lonesome what with his wife gone and his son so far away but John had a good neighbor and long time friend, Levi.
Levi and John’s farms butted up against each other. In fact their little wooden farm houses faced one another. There was only several hundred yards of prairie that separated John front porch from Levi’s.
Levi, an old confirmed bachelor farmer, spent a lot of time with John; going into town for breakfast or lunch at the local diner, playing cards together, sitting on their front porches listening to the radio or just chewing tobacco as they watched the sun set.
All of this was fine and well until one morning when John came out his front door to find his neighbor plowing up a piece of ground in preparation to plant wheat. This land was halfway between their farms. John thought that piece of ground belonged to him. Well, old John hadn’t slept well the night before and had woken up with a headache. When your tired and you don’t feel well sometimes you just don’t think straight. John was in a real bad mood and when he saw his neighbor, doing what he thought was trespassing on his property he lost his temper. Without thinking he started yelling at the man. “Get out of there! You have no right to be plowing up my land!!”
Well...Levi thought that the acre belonged to him and shouted out right back some not very nice words. The two men ended up turning their backs on one another and walking off; vowing to never speak to the other again. They stopped coming over to one an other's homes, they stopped their going into town together for meals and when the two old friends happened to run into one another in town they’d just turn and walk off in opposite directions. Levi did stop his plowing up that piece of ground but he left an old ugly rusted junk tractor sitting in the middle of it as if to remind his neighbor that he felt ground did belong to him. Both men were miserable.
Several months after that John heard someone knocking at his front door. When he opened the door he found standing there a young man carrying a tool kit. The young man had long dark hair and large brown eyes that radiated good will. That young man had the most gentle kind way of speaking.
“Wonder if there might be a job of work for me. I’m a carpenter.” There was something special about that young man. John trusted him immediately.
“Well, young man, do you see that ditch filled with water down there?” my neighbor who lives in that house across the way hitched his tractor to a plow and dug a creek bed from that pond you see up yonder. He did this out of spite. He created that little creek to show that he didn’t want me stepping foot on his land. Now me and that neighbor used be like brothers but no more. Well...I’m going to go him one better. I have a bunch of boards and other building materials in my barn. I want you to use those materials to build a tall fence running along that creek… I want you to build a wall as tall and long as you can make it. That way I can sit on my front porch and not have to catch sight of him.”
The young carpenter stood there for awhile gazing from one house to the other and then he said, “I reckon I can do something that you will like.”
“Alright. That sounds fine, Young Man. I’m going to be going to the upper field to chop weeds; probably won’t get back till late afternoon. I think I can trust you to do a good job.”
The old man left and the young man began his work. That carpenter worked all day and was just finishing up when he saw John driving his old beat up truck into the barn. The carpenter went into the barn and announced, “I’m all finished. Would you like to come and take a look at it.”
John went to look and believe you me what he saw about knocked him off his feet. That carpenter hadn’t build a wall; he’d used that lumber to build a foot bridge over that ditch and across the bridge came his old friend Levi. Levi was walking with his hand stretched out ready to shake the other man’s hand.
“John, you don’t know how dog-sorry that I am that I dug that ditch. That ditch has kept us from talkin’ to one another. How can we settle anything if we can’t talk in a civil manner. But now that you built this bridge to show you never favored us being cut off from one another. I can’t thank you enough.”
John shook his friend’s hand and said, “Why I’m as pleased as you are. But don’t credit me with that bridge notion. This carpenter here, he thought it up”
The two men turned to look at the carpenter who was just hoisting his tool kit up and starting to walk towards the road. John ran as quick as his old legs would carry him to catch up with the carpenter. “Hold up, Young Fella! Don’t go! I have lot’s of other work for you to do around here. Why don’t you stay awhile.”
The young man placed a hand on John’s shoulder and smiled at him. At that touch John felt a thrill of pure joy run through his being. The carpenter then turned and continued walking down the lane that lead to the road. As he walked he called back.
“Thank you for the invite but I need to be moving on. You see building bridges is what I do...and I have lots more work that needs to be done.”
Prayer: Lord, keep me from being too quick to judge others. Help me to not let my pride stand in the way of reaching out to those who I disagree with. Amen