I’ve always hated soccer. Unlike every other normal child, I never played AYSO when I was a kid. I never wanted to go out into the yard and just kick the ball around. I didn’t even want to watch my little brother’s soccer games. It wasn’t as if my mother didn’t try to make me do any of the above. I was just a stubborn kid and refused to do anything soccer related.
As I grew older, all of my friends played on club soccer teams and talked about it constantly. I would hear people rave about how major league soccer is the next big thing. To be honest, every time something about soccer arose in conversation, I was quickly bored.
So this summer when I boarded a plane in Newark, New Jersey to fly to Mexico City, I had no idea that soccer would earn an important place in my heart.
This past June, along with 19 other students and four chaperones, I attended a school trip to Mexico. On the fourth day of the trip, while in the city of Oaxaca, we took a highly anticipated trip to the orphanage.
On the way to the orphanage JesÃºs, the driver of the autobÃºs, stopped the bus behind a long line of traffic. While staring out the window, I saw a pick-up soccer game. It was being played on an old baseball diamond full of browning grass. The players looked full of intensity and so happy. The way they took such joy out of such a trivial thing like soccer brought joy to my heart. I couldn’t get the image out of my head for the rest of the ride.
We eventually got to the orphanage and as JesÃºs maneuvered the bus through the tight walls of the small pathway, my wide eyes scanned the surroundings of the orphanage. Poverty obviously played its role in the people’s lives. The dirt roads and small houses were not an everyday sight for the students of Forest Hills. The orphanage itself appeared out of place with its large roofs and separate buildings.
The group was given a short tour of the buildings and then we were let into the cafeteria where the kids were playing. They took in our pasty faces tinted with red from the hot Mexican sun, as we took in their small faces following their hands coloring with faded crayons.
Encouraged to mingle with them, we played with the fifty or so children. We made paper airplanes and cranes, colored in books, and tried to communicate even with the language barrier.
Entranced by the atmosphere of the place, I barely noticed when my milky white hands were slipped into the smooth brown palms of a small child. I looked down at the drool on his chin, his glossy eyes, and his goofy smile and this boy immediately intrigued me. His name was Jorge.
Jorge had severe autism and he was blind in his left eye. Because of his autism, he was incapable of speech. Even though he could not speak, he was still somehow able to communicate to me the intense light inside of him. Of all the children in the orphanage, I was drawn to Jorge. I didn’t leave his side, or him mine, during the rest of the time we were able to spend at the place he called home.
Jorge’s blindness drew him to light. He was so happy when he was holding something as simple as my digital camera. He could see the images portrayed through the screen because they shined through to him. He loved to shine the camera at the torn up soccer ball in the corner of the cafeteria.
As the day turned into dusk and the outside lights turned on, Jorge and I moved outside to look at them. As I held his hands while he looked at the light, I glanced over his shoulder at the pick-up soccer game that had started in the field next to us.
The little kids kicked the ball around with the older kids. It was so pure and unorganized. The looks on the kid’s faces made it seem like there was absolutely nothing better in the world. At one point, the ball rolled away from the game and came up to Jorge and it tapped his foot. His goofy smile got even bigger than usual and he let out a few happy sounds. I gained a new respect for the sport of soccer. If something so trivial could bring such joy to those orphans, who am I to say it is a worthless sport?
When we left the orphanage the kids ran up along side the bus and waved us goodbye. As I watched the children with tears spilling down my cheeks, I noticed that old, ratty soccer ball still sitting in the field. It brought a smile to my face and it always will now.
I learned something that day. I grew up a little and gained respect for not only an entire culture, but a sport as well. So the next time someone brings up soccer I’ll just smile and think of the happiness a simple game can bestow on a little orphan with nothing else in the world.
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