My Real Life

December 29, 2013

Then Change the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 1:45 pm

There are homeless people in my town.

There always have been.

It’s a beautiful town with a center called “The Green” and the homeless sit on benches, unnoticed, unobserved.

Not all of our homeless are invisible, however.

When I was a kid, one of the homeless men in town sued the library because they asked him to leave because he was harassing patrons and he smelled bad.

He won, but it was later overturned.

He has gone on to sue the railroad and other organizations throughout the years, sometimes with success and sometimes without.

But, while he may be the most “famous” of our homeless, he’s not the person who most people speak of.

That honor goes to Marianne.

When I was a kid, everyone called Marianne “The Dirt Lady” or “The Mud Lady.”

Since I was a child, Marianne has walked the streets of my town, covered in self-tanner, heavy makeup, with white-out on her teeth to make them pretty.

The New York times even had a piece on Marianne in 1998.

Marianne has good days and bad days.

When I was in my early twenties, I was substitute teaching, but I also worked in a card store on the Green.

Marianne would come in and would fix her hair and makeup while looking in her reflection in our flower cases.

Some days she would come in, do her business and leave.

Other days, she would walk around the store, loudly ranting, yelling at me, yelling at the customers, until the boss would gently and quietly ask her to leave.

She always left without issue.

Everyone who lives in my town knows Marianne.

However, most of the people in my town have never spoken to her.

The police look out for her, as do the shop owners and small business people.

But, the majority of the residents register her presence and then move on, rendering her as invisible as the next homeless person that they have stepped around or over or by, without a second glance.

This morning, my Dad was preaching at our church.

Our church is located on the Green.

He asked me if I would come and do the prayers and the readings for him.

He doesn’t ask this often, careful not to abuse the fact that he knows I’ll say yes, and so I was happy to do so.

The service began, and I sat, up, behind the pulpit, as my Dad preached.

I’m not sure at what point Marianne entered the building, but when I got up to say the prayer for the offering, there she was, sitting in the back of the church, bags at her feet, head down, resting or praying or listening, or just being in the warm, dry, quiet of the church.

The service continued, and when it was over, my Dad and I made our way to the back of the church, as the organist played the last piece of the morning.

People began to join us in the back of the church, shaking hands, saying good morning, catching up about their Christmas celebrations, and just sharing in some fellowship.

My attention was on the people filing past my Dad and I, at the door.

At one point, someone was speaking with my Dad about something that was clearly confidential, and so I turned my head to observe the crowd.

And there, I found Marianne, in the middle of it all, happily chatting with one of the parishoners who was asking her about how she was doing and talking with her about life in town.

Another woman came over to Marianne and invited her to the refreshment table and gave her some donuts and juice, and then also began to converse with her, as if she were simply another member of the church that was standing there in her Sunday best without shoe polish in her hair and every piece of clothing that she owned on her body or in the garbage bags at her feet.

People wished her a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and asked if there was anything she needed.

People walked by and said hello, and touched her on the arm, on the shoulder, on the hand.

They touched her, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been since she had felt the warmth of a human touch, given out of kindness and compassion, with no ulterior motive other than to provide comfort.

By the time everyone began to empty the back of the church, I walked to the table to get some water and Marianne was gathering her bags.

The woman behind the refreshment table said to her “Marianne, are you sure you don’t want to take some of these with you?” and Marianne said “No, thank you…I’m fine now” and she waved goodbye, and we waved and said goodbye back and she left.

I got my own coat and purse, said goodbye to my Dad and stepped out into the rainy morning.


When my Dad preaches, he often ends the service by saying “Go now, and spread the good news, and if the world is not ready to hear the good news…then change the world.”

I’m the first to admit, my relationship with religion is shaky, and so, to me, “good news” can mean a variety of different things.

This morning, for me, the good news is the evidence of human kindness that I am so often searching for and not often finding.

And so I am sharing with you, this good news.

And in doing so, I am hoping, so desperately, that I am able to be the change I wish to see in the world.


  1. I remember her, i remember the article in 98. I remember my Mom telling me Maryanne had been married & has grown children. I too have a shaky relationship w/ religion. I’ve known tho, my whole life, that I’m here to make a difference. I believe everyone is. Maryanne & others like her help us to b compassionate & make a difference when maybe we don’t know we can. U Amy, make a difference when u shed a light on stories like this. Thank u for sharing & reminding me I’m a good person, sometimes when my kids r acting up or when my world is not as I planned, I forget. Happy 2014 to u & ur beautiful family. ~Darcy

    Comment by Darcy — December 29, 2013 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Darcy…same to you and yours!

      Comment by Amy — December 29, 2013 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  2. I too know Maryanne. One time I asked the Dare officers at our school about her and discovered she has family who have made many attempts to help her. She is a very independent woman living in her own world and as long as she doesn’t harm someone she is allowed to live her life the way she wants!!! Interesting when you see her making the choices she makes every day. I also remember Jonathan, “the walker” who traversed our town with a speed that gave new meaning to the term “speed walker”. He too was homeless but not invisible. He had sat in my freshman math class at Madison High School years before this new “life”. It saddened me to watch him go about his business and though I tried to chat with him, it was not to be in his world at that time. These two people are/were members of our community which truly is a richer place because of their presence. We know them and accept them and because of that we all are blessed.

    Comment by Carla — December 29, 2013 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Carla.

      Comment by Amy — December 30, 2013 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  3. This was a beautiful post, Amy. Thank you. Our town had a Marianne too….Crazy Helen was her name. She carried her life with her, visiting shops, restrooms, and public spaces on her daily trip up and down the Main street of town. I don’t know what ever happened to her as we were gone for a few years.

    And I love your dad’s closing words….if the world is not ready to hear the good news, then change the world. Beautiful!

    Comment by Marge — December 30, 2013 @ 9:22 am | Reply

    • Thank you so much, Marge!

      Comment by Amy — December 30, 2013 @ 9:31 am | Reply

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