Describe some of the ways that Denver was able to support Ron and Deborah Hall in the book Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together.
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Ron Hall’s memoir of his experiences with an ex-convict, homeless African American man, Denver Moore, and the growing relationship between the affluent art dealer, his terminally ill wife, and the poverty-stricken Moore, Same Kind of Different as Me, is a sort of parable – only nonfiction – about the excesses of materialism in contemporary society, and the role of compassion in comforting the wounded. Hall and his wife, Deborah, befriended this homeless man and expected to provide positive models of spirituality and temperance. What they discover, however, is that this destitute homeless man has as much, or more, to teach them as they have to teach him. Beyond the power of redemption – Moore grew up in rural Louisiana, raised by an aunt and uncle, had never attended school, survived a vicious attack by the Ku Klux Klan, and served time in a notoriously brutal prison for armed robbery – the experience of knowing Moore illuminated for this Caucasian, successful family the power of compassion and the importance of resisting the inclination to accumulate material goods, especially those that merely serve to bespeak affluence.
With regard to the spiritual emptiness inherent in the accumulation of material goods, Hall relates a story of an early encounter with Moore over coffee, during which the art dealer nonchalantly sets his keys on the table. Observing the large number of keys on Hall’s key ring, Moore inquires as to whether each key represents a different possession, implying that the burden of the heavy key ring is representative of an overemphasis on materialism at the expense of one’s mental well-being. As Hall describes the conversation, Moore, referring to the many keys on the key ring, rhetorically inquires of his new friend and that friend’s many expensive possessions:
“’Are you sure you own them, or does they own you?’
“That wisdom stuck to my brain like duct tape. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced we’d enjoy life a whole lot more if we owned a whole lot less. In some ways, Denver became the professor and I the student as he shared his particular brand of spiritual insight and plain old country wisdom.”
As the author suggests, his life had become too centered on the accumulation of wealth at the expense of his spiritual and emotional well-being. If the Halls learned from Moore of the spiritual dangers of excess, they learned even more from their homeless friend, and from others in Moore’s universe, about the importance of compassion. Early in the book, Hall tells about a conversation with Deborah following their encounter with Chef Jim, a formerly successful caterer for a major international hotel chain, who resorted to alcohol and drugs to try and overcome the pain of losing his son, an event that triggered a psychological collapse also of his wife. Now, he earns his room and board at a homeless shelter by helping with meals:
“Jim shared his story with self-deprecating humor and without an ounce of blame or self-pity. Then, the encouraged us to come on down and dish-up supper for the homeless once a week.
‘Infect them with love, he said.’”
. . .
“Driving home, she [Deborah] reflected aloud on how society generally regards the homeless as lazy and foolish, and maybe some were. But she felt there so much more below that surface image: dysfunction and addiction, yes. But also gifts – like love, faith and wisdom – that lay hidden like pearls waiting only to be discovered, polished and set.”
This experience with Chef Jim represents the beginning of a spiritual journey for the Halls, a journey that would assume greater importance following Deborah’s illness. By the time of her diagnosis of cancer, the relationship between the Halls and Moore had grown close. In one of the book’s many moving passages, Ron describes Moore’s reaction to Deborah’s life-threatening condition:
“I had never seen him weep. His tears filled the lines in his face like rivers of grief, and it hit me again how much he loved Deborah. I marveled at the intricate tapestry of God’s providence. Deborah, led by God to deliver mercy and compassion, had rescued this wreck of a man who, when she fell ill, in turn became her chief intercessor. For nineteen months, he prayed through the night until dawn and delivered the word of God to our door . . .”
That this hardened, ex-convict homeless man could display such intense emotions towards the Halls was revealing to the couple. As important, Ron discovers the depth of such humanity in many homeless people – people who much of society ignores and considers incapable of such committed spirituality. Following Deborah’s death, he and his son Carson participate in a prayer gathering consisting of the homeless:
“Overwhelmed, Carson and I joined the circle and prayed with these men who seemed on the outside to have nothing to give but had been giving, without our knowing it, the most precious gift of all: compassion.”
What Ron and Deborah Hall learned from their relationship with Denver Moore was the importance of a spiritual life, compassion, and the lessons of Jesus with regard to eschewing materialism.
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