Wayfaring Stranger

There she is. She is seated by the door of the gas station. Her hair is slightly graying. She could be in her mid-thirties. Maybe late fifties. There’s no way to tell. There is a large backpack beside her.

She doesn’t ask for money. She doesn’t tell anyone a sad story. She isn’t panhandling. She’s just sitting there. Drinking blue Gatorade.

She is lean and wiry. Maybe ninety pounds. There are tattoos on her neck. Multiple piercings in her ears.

“I’m just passing through Birmingham,” she says. “I’m going to see my daughter, up in Chattanooga. She just had a granddaughter last week. First granddaughter I ever had.”

The woman has a cellphone. Which is a minor miracle to me. How can a homeless person have a mobile phone? Where does the phone company send the bill? How does this woman pay the bill? Where does she charge the battery?

On her phone is a photo of her new grandbaby. And I am struck because she looks happy and healthy. Like an ordinary baby. Nothing like her grandmother.

“Pretty, ain’t she?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Her name is Anne with an E.” The woman looks at me. “Anne is my name.”

She is smiling with her few teeth. She looks pretty beneath the tiredness. And in a word, that’s how homeless people always look to me. Tired.

I’ve spoken with many on skid row. Homelessness is a full-time job. Your whole life is work. Everything is up in the air.

Where are you going to eat? What about a bath? Do you go to the church shelter and use their facilities? Or does that make you sorry trash for abusing the kindness of others?

Where will you sleep tonight? Will you sleep at all? Is it even possible to sleep outdoors in the middle of a city where violence and gunfire is becoming as common as bird chatter?


We are interrupted when a woman comes out of the gas station. She is carrying a hot pizza box in her hands.

“Ma’am,” says the woman with the pizza. “I bought you a pizza.”

The woman on the ground changes. The look on her face becomes younger. More animated. She stands and accepts the pizza box and looks genuinely overcome.

She becomes a different person. You can see the change come over her. She is suddenly well-spoken. Gracious and polite.

Behind the scuffs and dirt, I can see evidence of a woman who used to be an average suburban mom. Maybe even a soccer mom.

Then she crumples on the ground again and begins eating her pizza. Two-handed. I notice a Gideon Bible poking from a pouch on her worn backpack. Also, a glass bottle.

“People are so good to me,” she says, eating the pizza with a ravenous bite. “Only reason I’m still alive is because people are good to me. God looks after me since I can’t look after my ownself. My life is a mess, but God cares for me, every single little bit. I really can’t explain it.”

And she’s obviously right. Because during our brief conversation she is given more food by more passersby.

A box of granola bars. A few bags of chips. Pork rinds. Peanuts. Someone offers to give her money, but she refuses.

“I don’t want money,” she tells the Samaritan. “Give it to someone who needs it. God is taking care of me until I get to Chattanooga:”

The man seems confused by her refusal. He pockets the cash and leaves her with a God-bless-you.

After he leaves, she smiles at me. She digs into her pocket. She shows me a Greyhound ticket. To Chattanooga. Her bus leaves tomorrow.

She says a man gave the ticket to her. An older man. She thinks he was Mexican, but she wasn’t sure.

Anne With An E told the man she didn’t want the ticket. He insisted. So she told him flatly, she wasn’t going to use the ticket because she didn’t deserve it. She said the ticket would only sit in her wallet.

But the man wouldn’t listen. The old man placed the ticket in her palm and closed her fingers around it. The man said, “Then let the ticket sit in your wallet for a hundred years. And every time you look at it, you’ll know that someone in Birmingham loves you.”

Her face is stained with pizza sauce. Her tickets are already greasy. She wipes her face with her sleeve. And if I am not mistaken, her eyes are wet.

“So,” she says, “ I guess someone in this [expletive] city loves me.”

I tell her she is dead wrong. Because there are at least two, Anne With an E.


  1. Christine - September 14, 2022 12:16 pm

    There but for the grace of God go I.

  2. mccutchen52 - September 14, 2022 12:21 pm

    There, but by the grace of God, go I. I always try to remember to pray and thank God for my life and to pray for others.

  3. Anne Arthur - September 14, 2022 12:21 pm

    My name sake, Anne. With an E at the end.
    How sad.
    It’s heartbreaking that there are so many homeless persons in our rich world. Thanks be to God that he provides for many of them through the kindness of others. This post reminds us to be humble and kind to those who’s lives fell apart for reasons we’ll probably never know.

  4. Trent - September 14, 2022 12:26 pm

    Mark 12:31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Great reminder Sean. Thanks!

  5. Suellen - September 14, 2022 12:56 pm

    There are so many lost souls. There but for the grace of God go I. But Anne is relying on God to provide all her needs. That’s a lesson for all of us.

  6. Karen - September 14, 2022 1:08 pm

    Wishing Anne safe travels and kind strangers. I pray life gets better for Anne.

  7. Debbie - September 14, 2022 1:15 pm

    Make that at least 3 who love her. I’m sure there will be many, many more today after reading your essay. Thank you, Sean.

  8. David Britnell - September 14, 2022 1:27 pm

    Thank you for loving her!

  9. Marion G. - September 14, 2022 2:02 pm

    You are a good man Sean Dietrich.

  10. Bill in Tennessee - September 14, 2022 2:12 pm

    I won’t bore you with the details, but as sure as I am typing this, there but for the grace of God go I.

  11. Stacey Wallace - September 14, 2022 2:13 pm

    Thanks for making mine and my husband’s day, Sean. God bless you. Love to you and Jamie.

  12. Dede Till - September 14, 2022 3:11 pm

    Your stories touch my heart…keep writing ❤️

  13. Patricia Gibson - September 14, 2022 4:40 pm

    God bless Anne

  14. sjhl7 - September 14, 2022 5:04 pm

    Beautiful …God bless Anne with an e and God bless you, Sean, for telling her story.

  15. Karen Snyder - September 14, 2022 6:59 pm

    There, but for the grace of God… That’s likely true for many more of us than choose to acknowledge it. May He continue to watch over Anne, and may His angels continue to help her along her way. ❤️

  16. pattymack43 - September 14, 2022 7:07 pm

    God is more awesome than any of us could possibly imagine! “The Lord is my shepherd……..”, too!

  17. Steve McCaleb - September 14, 2022 8:53 pm

    Sad story……beautifully told.

  18. Linda Moon - September 14, 2022 8:58 pm

    There’s usually a different person behind the troubles and hardships most of have at some time or other. My Mama was Queen of overcoming troubles, and lots of folks in Birmingham helped her ’til she could get on her feet. So, I bet there are lots of people who love Anne will and help her on her journeys wherever they lead to. My Mama was Billie with IE, not Y.

  19. Kathy - September 15, 2022 3:31 pm

    Please keep seeing. Please keep writing.

  20. Rhonda - September 16, 2022 3:39 pm

    Well said. The life that at first seems like freedom to them, turns out to be much more work than what they are running from.
    TIRED is definitely the word.

  21. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 17, 2022 12:52 am


  22. Rose - September 18, 2022 2:03 am

    I read a story years ago in a shelter’s newsletter, written by the man who tirelessly heads their work. He posited this idea: Before we come to earth, what if we’re angels and we’re asked what we want to be when we come to earth and grow up. Some will say teachers or parents or scientists or combinations of things. But perhaps the most evolved of us will say they want to come as someone in need, someone sick or homeless or hungry. That way, they can help the rest of us grow in charity and love by giving us the opportunity to help a brother or sister in need.


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