I have a student named Dominic. He's little, even for a 1st grader, and often speaks in a mixture of English and Pohnpeian, rattling off in a jib jab of languages as his brain still figures out what to speak at school.
Dominic is a part of what I call 'The Morning Crew'. This dedicated group of students likes to play Predator and Prey every morning, where I am the prey and my students the predators. I think they have a sixth sense about where I am because the moment I step out the gate of my house and start walking to school, they spot me with great shouts of "Teacher Emily is coming! Teacher Emily is coming!" It's serious business. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bet their snack money on who can spot me first.
Once I have been spotted they break like a football team and one contingent runs out to give me hugs and escort me to the classroom (because clearly I need miniature bodyguards to walk from the school gate to the classroom door) while the others jump up and down and cheer from outside the classroom “Teacher Emily, Teacher Emily is here!” I kid you not. There is jumping and there is cheering, everyday.
Dominic is part of the 'run out to greet Teacher Emily' party, and let me tell you he runs with a purpose. He also runs like a giraffe. All his limbs are very straight and a little awkward and he looks like a miniature baby giraffe barreling down the grass to give me a hug (and almost pull my skirt down, daily). After a round of hugs at the gate - which could last all morning because everyone starts talking a mile a minute because lots of very important things happened that I need to know about and Teacher Emily I have this for snack and Teacher Emily I did my homework and Teacher Emily my dad comes on the airplane tomorrow - I say, "Lets go to the classroom!" I start walking, with the contingent walking behind me and running ahead of me, all wispy and whimsical in their 6-year-old selves.
This is what happens to me every morning from 7:58 to 8:02 as I make the short commute from my apartment across the street to school. They greet me like this, with such deep, outward love, and all I did was show up. Wake up, put on my local skirt, eat some breakfast, and show up at school.
This year I'm only the 1st grade teacher until lunch. After lunch the kinder teacher takes over in 1st grade while I work as a reading specialist in the empty classroom next door. I work with small groups of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders who are struggling with reading fluency and comprehension. I LOVE this job and am so grateful the school asked me to work in this capacity. I love working with smaller groups of students who really need the extra encouragement and love.
I still see my 1st graders in the afternoons when I'm in the classroom at recess or other random times, but the way they hug me and say "Teacher Emily I missed you!!" makes it seem like its been weeks, instead of hours, that they've gone without me.
That's how six-year-olds roll. They love you deep and loud, even when it's 8 in the morning and you only just showed up. They say 'I love you' and give random hugs throughout the day and dance and smile and giggle. In the afternoons Dominic likes to give me a play-by-play of exactly what happened in class with Teacher Banae while I was next door.
My little Dominic, he runs like a giraffe but he loves like a linebacker.
And I think God greets us this way every morning, too. He doesn't wait at the classroom door. He doesn't even wave or cheer from afar. He sees you, that you are awake and alive and choosing to show up and live this day, and he runs to you. Whether he runs like Dominic, like a giraffe, I'm not sure, but I know he runs to you and loves you like a linebacker.
How can you love like a linebacker? A hug, picking up a surprise coffee for someone, calling your grandma or a friend you haven't heard from in a while. Everyone can do it.
On the days that I forget this kind of love, I thank my lucky stars I have my students as a physical reminder of how much God loves us.
May we all be bold enough to take a cue from my 1st graders, today, and love like a linebacker.