Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Book Report

In sixth grade, Mrs. Chandler began requiring a weekly oral book report. I had been killing the competition in reading prior to this unfortunate change in reporting method. Before this, we could turn in a written report as often as we finished a chapter book. Then a circle of colored paper with our name and the book we read written on it was taped to the wall, forming a snake across the top of the room. My snake was the longest, closely followed by Nancy Curtis' (which kept me reading like a maniac). We could also get extra credit if we made a 'shadowbox' of a scene from our current book. I remember a painstakingly detailed rendition of 'Charlotte's Web' in a shoebox, with a spiderweb made of string and a plastic pig.

But an oral report? For this shy, freckled little girl? Just shoot me! And although I can't remember the name of the book I was reporting on, I do remember vividly that I mispronounced the name of the main character. I said "Pen lope" instead of "Pen el o pee" and everyone burst out laughing. My face grew beet red and I'm sure I was fighting back tears. Looking back, it was probably a good experience for Miss Smarty-Pants-with-the-longest-book-snake.

Which brings me - somewhat indirectly - to my book report for today! I'm just finishing the most wonderful book that I highly recommend. It's called Same Kind Of Different As Me and the subtitle reads: A modern-day slave, an international art dealer and the unlikely woman who bound them together. It's written by a black man and a white man, alternating chapters.
I think the reason it has resonated with me so much is in the white man's (Ron) honest self-assessment - he makes judgments about people based on appearance first and doesn't know the first thing about unconditional love. But the story of how this homeless black man (Denver) changes his life is absolutely amazing. I won't try to retell the story or even give my take on it. Instead, I'll just quote a few of my favorite parts.

On a sun-splashed Monday in the early spring of 1998, Deborah and I drove to the Rescue Mission, she propelled by her passion to help the broken and I propelled by a love for my wife... To our left, a string of shabby men staggered from the johnsongrass that covered the lot. To the right, a parade of women and children in dirty, mismatched clothes shambled along, dragging green garbage bags... I pulled into the parking lot wondering how quickly I'd be able to pull out again.

Things was goin along jus fine at the mission till that smilin white couple started servin in the dinin hall on Tuesdays. Ever week, that woman drew a bead on me in the servin line. She'd smile at me real big and ask me my name and how I was doin - you know, attackin me for no particular reason. I did my best to stay completely outta her way.

And later in the story...

Denver leaned in with his right shoulder and narrowed his eyes even farther. "Mr. Ron, I was captive in the devil's prison. That was easy for Miss Debbie to see. But I got to tell you: Many folks had seen me behind the bars in that prison for more than thirty years and they jus walked on by. Kept their keys in their pocket and left me locked up. Now I ain't tryin to run them other folks down, cause I was not a nice fella - dangerous - and probly just as happy to stay in prison. But Miss Debbie was different. She seen me behind them bars and reached way down in her pocket and pulled out the keys God gave her and used one to unlock the prison door and set me free." Denver pounded home those last words like eight separate nails, then sat back in his chair. "She's the onlyest person that ever loved me enough not to give up on me and I praise God that today I can sit here in your home a changed man - a FREE man!"

Of course, you have to read the book to appreciate the really miraculous but simple story of how God changes these two men. I hope you do - you won't regret it. And I'd love to hear your thoughts. (No oral report necessary!)

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