The Least of These

Showing empathy from a young age

I’ll just call him Lucas. My seventh-grade class’s only special ed. student, Lucas got called ‘retard’ on a daily basis.

He stood a little under average height and had a dark complexion. Kids in my grade held their noses anytime they passed him, telling him to get away from them or his smell would make them vomit.

Lucas had a lost look in his eyes as he wandered around the playground behind the school in small-town Montana. He would look for someone to play with him. 

Nobody did but me. 

Sometimes I would go home and tell my parents how bothered I was by the meanness in kids and in the world.

Lucas would have tried anything to fit in and be accepted.

On the day he did try, I was the only kid who showed him that acceptance.

I got to school one morning and sat through the normal routine of what had happened that day in history and what we were having for lunch. To my surprise, our school principal burst into the door with an unexpected announcement. We would be having an election for class president in just a few days. If we were interested in running, we were welcome to talk to him ASAP.

No way was I going to talk to the principal over some stupid presidency. But coming to school a few days later, I was surprised who did. 

‘Lucas is running?!’ I whispered to myself during first period prep. The voting cards had just been handed out to the class and there was his name. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. 

‘Class, please make your selection with an ‘X’ next to the candidate you choose and then hand the cards in.’ The principal was pacing back and forth at the front of the classroom. I knew we didn’t have much time. 

‘Don’t worry about putting your name on it,’ was the next thing he said.

I remember there only being two or three candidates beside Lucas, but I knew all of them were popular. Obviously, Lucas didn’t stand a chance of winning, but I at least wanted him to feel he’d gotten something, so I put a mark next to his name. My class handed in our voting cards and all I can remember after that is my hope that someone had voted for him besides me. 

The next day, the votes had been counted. The winner had been one of the popular kids.

Walking out into the hall, I could see all my peers dressed in whatever was trendy and saying whatever they weren’t supposed to. Swear words didn’t bug me, but what I heard next made me livid.

‘Did you hear that retard only got one vote?’ said a girl huddled together with her comrades next to the gym door.

‘That you could ever know his pain,’ I thought to myself as I readjusted my backpack and set out to see my friend. 

Picture I took from a helicopter over Glacier Park.

Picture I took from a helicopter over Glacier Park.