“How can you keep smiling?” she asked me. Her name was Mai. She was not one of my students, but this night I was lucky enough to have her in my class. It was my Saturday 6 pm class, and I’ll admit, it’s always a difficult one. One of the keys to learning English is practicing it, and this class was one of the most tight-lipped ones I had the pleasure of teaching. Add to the fact that it was one of the dreaded speech units. No one wants to give a speech, and no one wants to ask questions of the speaker. Mai, however, was always quite a vocal student. She did stand forth and barrage the students with questions. She gave her speech with such enthusiasm. And, given her silent classmates that evening, her assessment of my class was that things had gone quite poorly. She was telling me this at the close of class. After she gave her assessment, she asked me, “How can you keep smiling?” I kept smiling because it was Saturday, and the job was done for another week.
“How can you keep smiling?” she asked me. Her name was Keysha. It was halfway though our brutal week of training. It was mere moments before we were to give our second practice class. Real students were filing into the training compound. Stress levels were high. But through it all, I wore a smile on my face. Keysha soon noticed that throughout all of training, nothing removed the smile from my face. After she noticed this, she asked me, “How can you keep smiling?” I kept smiling because it was the start of an adventure.
“How can you keep smiling?” he asked me. He was the dear Mr. Anderson. It was shortly after I was told my contract would not be renewed. I was upset. I stopped smiling for a while. I took a weekend to sort through some things, and soon I began smiling again. But this befuddled Mr. Anderson. “But I thought you needed that money,” he said. “You were so upset when that happened. Your plans were destroyed.” He asked me, “How can you keep smiling?” At this point, Mr. Anderson began to lament about his job. He was distressed at how the company wouldn’t stop asking him to stay. He was frustrated at how he didn’t have enough time in the day to pursue his artistic interests. I kept smiling because I was free.
“How can you keep smiling?” I ask myself. I have been home in Entwistle for almost a month now. I’m living with my parents again until I find a place of my own closer to school. So little has changed in Entwistle that it is very easy for me to pick up right where I left off. I’m even falling back into old habits. The more I begin to slide into the old routine, the more my time in Japan begins to feel distant. Names and faces begin to get more cloudy. Memories and stories I once told with relish begin to fade. My experiences in Japan are increasingly feeling like a dream; one of those very good dreams where you spend the first few minutes lying in bed, struggling to remember every detail. How can I keep smiling?
Because I remember.