The Greeter

A few years ago, I wrote an article about our school greeter. He would stay in front of my kids’ school every morning, and…well…greet everyone. It was a wonderful way to start the day. They smiled and he shook their hands and said, “Have a great day!” When he died, there was a tangible vacuum at school. Everyone carried on, and some people even tried to fill his shoes, but no one lasted. And no one could replace him.

Our mornings were never the same. And my children always missed him. I had approached our head of school and told him that the school had to find a new greeter. It was so important to set the tenor of the day. To start off happy before walking into classrooms.

But no one ever showed up.

My children have gone to the same school since they were babies in playgroup, but we decided to switch their schools for next year. There are a host of reasons behind that decision, but when I think of the years they spent there, I keep going back to those mornings when we were greeted with a smile, and a handshake, and a good-morning. I miss that. With schools so pressured to perform and students using every second to catch up in classes, or practice for teams, or finish their homework, everyone seems to be constantly running to the next activity or chore. There is no more place for a brief stop, a check-in with the kind man at the door who wishes a great day just for the sake of wishing it.

Maybe instead of more tests and homework, all our students need is that daily reminder to smile and be happy. Even if it’s only for a second at the door.

Here is my article:

Like most people, I only knew you for 68 seconds a day.

The meeting was daily. At least most of the time. As I pulled into the driveway in front of school, glancing at my watch while pulling a brush through the hair of one of my kids. Holding the cell phone. You opened the door with the same smile each day – rain or shine – regardless of my surly attitude, my screaming kid, the papers that fell on the sidewalk as the door opened. My son would look for you as we rounded the corner. It was as much a part of our morning routine as brushing teeth, eating breakfast, and getting in the car. We said good morning to Mr. Genet.

The meeting was always exciting. There were surprises to be had, mitzvahs to share, pictures to rifle through. Some days it was stickers. Sometimes pins. Fridays always brought quarters. There were gifts from other countries – red strings from the Kotel, little dolls from China, flags and buttons and kippahs. The kids would jump out of the car eager to see what Michael had brought that day.

The meeting was educational. Simple manners, like “say thank you” followed by an exuberant “you’re welcome!” Torah lessons of “make sure to give that to Tzedakah today!” and “Learn well.” Love of Israel in the stars and blue and white prizes. And most important, daily affirmations of value and self-worth, self-esteem building moments when my child saw her picture and heard, “Isn’t that a great one?’ from the cherished photographer.

The meeting was brief. It was a simple greeting. A “let-me-help-you-get-your-kids-to-school-pull-out-of-the-lot-and-have-a-great-day” meeting. But its effects lasted all day. The bad moods from the frantic morning rush seemed a thing of the past, the pre-coffee headache wasn’t so bad, and the day just looked a little sunnier. A little friendlier. A little happier. When kids were asked what your job was, they responded with “He makes sure everyone is happy.” How fortunate to have that ability and how privileged were we to have our own personal joy maker to start our days.

But now, those meetings have become a metaphor for your life – brief, exciting, instructive. We are left with the same moments – the same feelings that were generated by those simple glimpses into your heart. The time we had was brief – too short to really appreciate it, but long enough to know that we took it for granted. It was enlightening as well. We watched a man who was so full of life even when it seemed that life was constantly battling against him. Who knew that strength behind the gentle smile? And who would have thought that it could ever waver?

And like those daily meetings, your memory will be with each of us every day, every morning, every time we pull up to the curb and look for your trinkets, look for your beaming grin, share in your enthusiasm. You leave us with a charge – unspoken and yet implied for so long over these years when we thought you’d always be there.

A charge to always smile and laugh, always do our best, always care, and always be excited. Excited about Judaism. Excited about holidays.

Excited about mornings and carpools and stickers and pins.

Excited about life.

You taught me that; you taught all of us that. In just 68 seconds a day. If you had that kind of impact on me, I can’t imagine what you have done for the people who knew you beyond the school gates.

Our meetings may have officially ended, but only for now. It’s your turn to be greeted and welcomed with the same joy you gave to all of your children at school.
Your turn to feel peaceful and assured.

I know my kids will still look for you, will still feel a twinge of longing when we pull up to the school gates many weeks from now.

But we know you have a somewhat more pressing engagement.

And that you are still smiling.

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