That Smile

Dear Kurt,

The only reason I called you out in front of three or more people at the bar is not because my best friend is married to a firefighter, or that Erika, the calmest and most even-keeled human on earth, couldn’t handle your new schedule.

It’s because you once won an award for that smile on your face.

It’s more than a smile, of course. It’s your whole soul, put on perfectly honest display for the 175 (or whatever the number might be) of students who cycle in and out of your classroom each year.

It’s a smile that leads more than a hundred teachers to scream on a sidewalk for three days begging for a better life. A smile that brought her to you for a secluded wedding in the New Mexico hills. A smile that calms the hearts of a sixteen-year-old broken heart, a sixteen-year-old’s questioning of the world.

You can’t win an award for something that isn’t genuine.

And I hate that you won’t be the other end of the Sche-… Germanic name that is our department. That you won’t be the first to tell me I’m talking too much or the last one to throw in the lunchtime joke.

I hate that you put those numbers of students up last year and I hate that you know exactly what they don’t mean and that you had already completed your EMT course before those numbers were even posted, because you were unhappy.

And the last thing that a winner of the Smile Award needs.

Is to be unhappy.

So instead? Instead of me telling you my children’s drama, instead of seeing that beautiful, award-winning grin?

I want you to be happy. To work your two-and-four-day schedule and say goodbye to us (but leave us Erika, please), and keep winning those awards.

Those awards she didn’t give you: patience. Truth. Leadership. Accountability. All the goddamn buzzwords that you curse and yet live by. Because you are the teacher and leader that everyone needed and never had.

Because you are genuine, and I love you and hate you and want to be you all in the same smile.

And you deserve to put that smile on your face like you mean it. And I know you mean it.

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