He Was Somebody Special

(Originally printed September 1983.)
Once the class really looked at him, they realized …

He walked into the seminary classroom somewhat frightened, maybe a little belligerent, certainly not at ease. He came because most of the students in his grade came to seminary, but he came alone. Few spoke to him; no one walked with him. He had almost no friends.

For one so young his life had been a most difficult one. His father had been killed in a drunken brawl. His mother was not interested in sending her children to church, and she was not really interested in sending them to school. She was on state welfare, and much of that money was used to purchase liquor for herself and her boyfriends. There were two other children in the family; all three had different fathers.

Even the most basic material goods were lacking in the home, including adequate food and clothing. The boy had only a sweater to keep him warm in the cold weather. As he walked to school, he would take the sweater off as he approached the building because it had large holes in it and he didn’t want his peers to see. He wore no socks because he had none. His hands were rough and chapped because the house had only cold water and no soap with which to wash. This boy was thin and lacked vitality. He lived in an unkempt area on the far side of town and was uncomfortable when he visited any other section of the community.

The first day of class I invited him to sit on the front row. He did so willingly but not comfortably. I tried to make friends with him, but it was very difficult. He appeared to trust no one.

After school had been in session for several weeks, I asked if he would like to give the prayer. He quickly and emphatically refused. I later learned that he had never heard a prayer until his first day in class. He had never been to church, he had never belonged to the Boy Scouts, he had never held the priesthood. As the days passed there was little change in his willingness to communicate, to smile, or to seek friends.

A month before the Christmas holidays, one young lady requested class time to present a matter of concern. The young man was absent that day, and as she stood before the group her message was simply, “We are not friendly with him, we do not speak with him, we do not walk with him, we do not associate with him. This seems to me to be very wrong. After all, he is important too.” Then she suggested they could and should be friendly to him and help him to understand how important he was—his importance to them and to himself. They all agreed to respond to her recommendations. Then she suggested that they each contribute a small amount of money toward buying him a coat for Christmas. This they also willingly accepted.

One did not have to be told they were succeeding. It was in his eyes, in his walk, and in his smile. It was obvious to everyone that there was a change in his life. He walked a little taller. He was able to look others in the eye and smile as he extended a friendly greeting.

One day there was a note on the teacher’s desk which read, “If you cannot find someone to give the prayer today, I will,” and he signed his name. Strangely enough no one would give the prayer that day, so I called on him. He did not close his eyes. He did not fold his arms. He did not bow his head or do any of the things we normally do in prayer. He simply looked up to the ceiling with his hands by his side and said, “Please, God, help us. Amen.” No one smiled. No one coughed. No one said a word. It was a wonderful prayer to him and to every member of the class.

Two or three days before the Christmas vacation, the young lady who had proposed the plan came to class with a beautifully wrapped Christmas package and again requested class time. She stood and thanked each of the students for their kindness and their willingness to respond to her earlier suggestions. Then she spoke for just a moment about the value of individuals regardless of their status in life, their home background, their scholastic abilities, or their popularity. She said that every one is very important. The young man, a bit suspicious at first, suddenly became aware that the young lady was about to involve him in a new experience.

After some moments, she took him by the arm and had him stand by her side. She told him how much they appreciated him and how valuable he was to the class. She said they all appreciated him and were pleased he was their friend. By now he had tears in his eyes, but so did the teacher and most of the class. She then laid the package in his arms, and the tears increased. After a moment or two passed, another young man in the class said, “If you will open the package, you can see what’s in it.”

Slowly, methodically, with great care and a desire not to tear the paper, he opened the package and held up a beautiful jacket. He continued to display his emotions and so did the class. After some moments, the same boy said, “If you’ll unzip it you can put it on.” He opened the zipper and slowly put his arms into each sleeve, pulling the jacket around him and displaying a happy smile through the tears. He wore the coat every day until the last week in May.

Something had happened in his life that had never happened before. Someone gave him something, and in that gift was an expression of appreciation and love that he had never known. He later related to some of us that he had only had one Christmas present in 14 years, and that had been an orange.

Needless to say, the young man’s life had changed. He became happy in his schoolwork, he participated in many activities, the other students enjoyed him, and he made many friends. If the story ended there it would be a great story, and the young lady who recognized the worth of a soul would have performed a miracle. But the miracle continued. This young man filled a mission, married in the temple, and is the father of two lovely children. One of the other children, his half sister, has also married in the temple. She and her fine husband are both active in the Church. The third child, a half brother, also filled a mission and has completed his college work. And the mother—oh yes, the mother. She reports that each night she thanks her Heavenly Father for many things, including a young lady who knew the value of her son and was willing to make her feelings known. Secondly, she thanks her Heavenly Father for the great principle of repentance and forgiveness. Third, she thanks him for her membership in the Church, for a loving Savior who helped a family change. Then she thanks him for the privilege of being the secretary in her ward Relief Society and for the love and kindness of all her sisters there.

Yes, he was someone special, and the class was special.

Perhaps the most significant lesson learned from this beautiful, shared experience was a clearer, deeper meaning of those forceful words of the Savior to the Prophet Joseph: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh