Eighteen-year-old Harry Ferguson was laid to rest in 1883 under these words, “Sleep sweetly tired young pilgrim.” I wondered what wearied him so.

Then I saw it. It was chiseled into a tombstone on the northern end of the cemetery. The stone marks the destination of the body of Grace Llewellen Smith. No date of birth is listed, no date of death. Just the names of her two husbands, and this epitaph:

Sleeps, but rests not. 
Loved, but was loved not. 
Tried to please, but pleased not. 
Died as she lived—alone.

Words of futility.

I stared at the marker and wondered about Grace Llewellen Smith. I wondered about her life. I wondered if she’d written the words . . . or just lived them. I wondered if she deserved the pain. I wondered if she was bitter or beaten. I wondered if she was plain. I wondered if she was beautiful.

I wondered why some lives are so fruitful while others are so futile.

I caught myself wondering aloud, “Mrs. Smith, what broke your heart?”

Raindrops smudged my ink as I copied the words.

Loved, but was loved not...

Long nights. Empty beds. Silence. No response to messages left. No return to letters written. No love exchanged for love given.

Tried to please, but pleased not...

I could hear the hatchet of disappointment.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Chop.

“You’ll never amount to anything.” Chop. Chop.

“Why can’t you do anything right?” Chop, chop, chop.

Died as she lived—alone.

How many Grace Llewellen Smiths are there? How many people will die in the loneliness in which they are living? The homeless in Atlanta.

The happy-hour hopper in LA. A bag lady in Miami. The preacher in Nashville. Any person who doubts whether the world needs him. Any person who is convinced that no one really cares.

Any person who has been given a ring, but never a heart; criticism, but never a chance; a bed, but never rest.

These are the victims of futility. And unless someone intervenes, unless something happens, the epitaph of Grace Smith will be theirs.

That’s why the story you are about to read is significant. It’s the story of another tombstone. This time, however, the tombstone doesn’t mark the death of a person—it marks the birth. Her eyes squint against the noonday sun. Her shoulders stoop under the weight of the water jar. Her feet trudge, stirring dust on the path. She keeps her eyes down so she can dodge the stares of the others.

She is a Samaritan; she knows the sting of racism. She is a woman; she’s bumped her head on the ceiling of sexism. She’s been married to five men. Five. Five different marriages. Five different beds. Five different rejections. She knows the sound of slamming doors.

She knows what it means to love and receive no love in return. Her current mate won’t even give her his name. He only gives her a place to sleep.

If there is a Grace Llewellen Smith in the New Testament, it is this woman. The epitaph of insignificance could have been hers. And it would have been, except for an encounter with a stranger.

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On this particular day, she came to the well at noon. Why hadn’t she gone in the early morning with the other women? Maybe she had. Maybe she just needed an extra draw of water on a hot day. Or maybe not. Maybe it was the other women she was avoiding. A walk in the hot sun was a small price to pay in order to escape their sharp tongues.

“Here she comes.”

“Have you heard? She’s got a new man!”

“They say she’ll sleep with anyone.”

“Shhh. There she is.”

So she came to the well at noon. She expected silence. She expected solitude.