In the wonderful, compelling, memoir “Same kind of different as me” a rich art dealer is nudged by his simple, sincere, servant wife to begin serving the evening meal once a week at the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth, Texas.
His wife Deborah has had vision about a poor man rising to lead the city. When a homeless man named Denver shuffles eyes down through the meal line, she realizes with a start, “That’s him!” She encourages Ron, her reluctant husband, to befriend Denver.
It takes months because the distance between their universes is light years.
Denver was born and raised a sharecropper in Louisiana, a modern slave. He could not read or write, never attended school a day in his life. He never even knew there was such a thing as a school that he was missing.
One day when he was 23 he just left the plantation, still in debt to “the man” for the clothes on his back and for rent on his two-room, windowless shack that had no plumbing or electricity. He caught a slow freight train to California.
With the help of hobos and homeless, he learned to survive by panhandling, or feigning a “hamburger drop” in which he would scrounge through a garbage can for a hamburger he’d put there earlier. When a likely “donor” approached, he would pull the burger out and start eating, a revolting sight that compelled the approaching mark to say, “Don’t eat that! Here is some money, get a real meal.”
He eventually migrated back to Fort Worth where Ron, over time, reached out him. They went to eat, shared coffee, even toured some art museums and hung out. Street wise and guarded, Denver finally asked Ron, “What do you want from me?”
Ron said he simply wanted Denver to be his friend. Denver asked for a couple days to think about it.
When next they sat over coffee, Denver said he’d learned of a curious white man’s practice of fishing. While a poor black man is proud of everything he catches, takes it home and makes it a meal, he’s learned that white men sometimes throw their catch back into the water. They call it “catch and release.”
If Ron was interested in a “catch and release” friendship in which he reaches out to secure Denver’s friendship, and releases Denver once he’s gained it, then Denver was not interested in being a friend.
If, however, Ron was interested in a forever friend – a mutual, supportive friendship through thick and thin – then he would like to be Ron’s friend.
It is a moving scene in a riveting, true story.
Denver recognized that some who strive to “do good” might be crossing social barriers to notch a credit, or gain a good feeling, only to realize the energy and commitment required to maintain a friendship across boundaries is too great. And they release it.
Are we willing to cross social barriers to “catch” a soul for Christ, but then “release” the person after we’ve witnessed to him or her because the burden of actually being a friend is more than we intended?