Yesterday I volunteered at our kids’ middle school, serving ice cream and selling school supplies during lunch for all three grades (6-8th).
I got to chatting with the police liaison assigned to our school - I'll call him Officer Jones. All the kids love him. He directs traffic in the morning, does funny dances, shakes their hands or salutes the boys as they come in, and treats the girls like they are young ladies crossing a drawbridge into a castle as they cross on the crosswalk toward the school.
I have never seen him without a smile on his face. He is so obviously enjoying himself, you just can’t help but smile along, too.
As I watched him during three lunch periods, I was even more amazed. Officer Jones played a game teaching the kids sign language (whether real or made up, I’m not sure). He had twenty kids at a time in rapt attention, all hoping to win the coveted prize - ice cream (paid for by his own cash) from my little booth.
But the most incredible thing of all: he knew just about every child’s name (there are over 1000 students in our middle school). As they walked by, he air-high-fived each one. “How ya doin', Amanda?” he’d say. Amanda would wave a little embarrassed wave, but would be beaming. Everyone knew what she was thinking: “I must be somebody. Officer Jones knows who I am.”
I asked Officer Jones about it later. After listening to several of his jokes, I stopped laughing long enough for him to tell me he served as the police liaison for one of our city's high schools for several years. He said he would always see kids sitting alone at lunch. “Lonely in a crowd,” he said, “as if they didn't know anybody.”
So he was determined to learn the loners' names. He did. The kids came to him like pins to a magnet.
Soon other kids began to come to him and ask him, “Do you know my name?” He learned a few more. It didn’t take long before he realized he was going to need to learn EVERYONE’s name. So that’s exactly he did. He took the yearbook, and memorized everyone’s name in the entire senior class - over 700 names - plus the names of any siblings they had at the school.
Now that he’s been working with middle schoolers for a while, he’s memorized several years’ worth of graduating classes. Remarkably, he recites them in alphabetical order.
Aside from displaying his phenomenal memorization technique, Officer Jones obviously enjoys this age group, and his devotion to the kids is astounding. Who would go to such uncommon lengths just to know a child’s name? And in middle school - the time when kids are deciding who they want to be, and experience the most acute need for acceptance.
Could there be a better way to show you care? I can’t think of any.
I am terrible with names. There are people whose kids go to school with mine, or who I’ve gone to church with literally for years, and I still don’t know their names. There are kids in Sunday school and the youth group I need to get to know. There are neighbors I need to meet.
But I want to be someone like Officer Jones - someone who gets past my own personal awkwardness and looks for those who are “lonely in a crowd.”
This is not a natural thing for me, but can still see those adolescent faces light up, knowing someone cared enough to get to know them. I have vivid memories of those adults who showed interest in me when I was that age.
Maybe taking a chance on a frienship could begin with something small - like learning someone's name.
Will you join me?
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.