Written by Jaime Jones //
I’ve had a crappy week. No, the world has had a crappy week. I get out of class, and head to the soccer fields on 1st Street. When I get to the field, I sit on the grass and watch as more and more strangers gather and do the same thing. They sit down in silence, and take out their cleats. Slowly, faces they recognize start to show up and I hear, “Hola, que pasa?”, “Nimen Hao”, “Jambo, kaka”, “AYYYY, what up maaaan”. We all breathe in the scent of fresh cut grass, and 3-year-old-soccer-cleats. I smile, and my mind turns to the game. The next thing I know, I’m in a passionate embrace with the Chinese guy I had only nodded at previously and getting patted on the back by the African kid who drives a Mercedes. I’m happy because I didn’t miss the header, but even happier because the little guy with the huge grin on his pasty white face, who doesn’t know me at all, trusted me and set me up perfectly. The world is beautiful again.
I sit at my desk at the American Planning Association. Every day, I come in and get to work underachieving. I am the secretary’s secretary. I think briefly about how much better paying my job at the Army Corps of Engineers was. I snap out of it, because I know that the work I did for them was totally divorced from bettering my neighbor’s lived experience. I want to help create communities where everyone can thrive. I am currently applying for jobs, working as hard as I can, waiting for God to put me where I need to be so that I can make bigger contributions. Until then, I think about Heaven, and what it might be like if I get in.
On the plane, I score a window seat, my friend strikes up a conversation in Spanish with the old lady in the aisle seat, and I fall asleep; exhausted from willing time forward all day. When I land, I walk down a flight of stairs directly onto the tarmac. I hear Spanish, smell the ocean, and am hit with a hot breeze that shouldn’t be refreshing, but it is. The old woman from the plane is struggling with her luggage, so I politely gesture to her that I’d like to help her carry it. She drops it immediately and smiles, I can tell she was waiting for me to help her. For the next week and a half, locals show us where to wander. We travel like farm dogs; sniffing out anything that moves. I stare in amazement at things that all at once feel completely normal, and totally incredible. I see a man dripping in sweat as he chops wood on a downtown avenue. I see a filthy little boy sprint past, and three girls sprinting after him making kissy faces. I see a man with a limp in his gait that reminds me of my dad, and that makes my heart flutter for a moment. I think that I have found more people and another place that I could love with all of my being.
I go back to working, wishing, and waiting.
A lot of people think of Heaven as this place where dead people who have been good during life, go to sit, and drink wine, and play music. I think this is wrong. At least, I think that this conception of Heaven is useless to strive for. Believe me, I want to get into heaven, but I don’t care to sit for eternity. I am doing that at work now. The better conception is that Heaven is a place where people that have been committed to living just lives go, and they enjoy themselves doing whatever it is that they enjoy doing. Except, the only things that they can do there are good things. So, since I am striving to get into Heaven, I better make sure that I genuinely enjoy doing good things.
Traveling is one way that I test my theory about being socially just. It helps me shape myself into a person who is capable of fighting for social justice, someone who recognizes social justice when I see it. I believe good and bad to be universal. It may be dressed up in different ways, but you know it when you see it. Just like in pick-up soccer, the rules are the same, just the level and style of play changes; you would recognize the game played on dirt, with two garbage cans set apart as goals, and every player barefoot in jeans. The point is to be able to fit in and play with the same trust, no matter where you are, or who you are with.
During my trip to Ecuador, I recognized that a man dripping in sweat in downtown Quito is a dignified, hard working man – that’s all. A filthy little boy in Baños can still be a lady-killer. Getting old sucks, no matter who you are, or where you live. During my trips, I am just testing to make sure my hang-ups about the world are not coming through to how I treat people. Actually, as I’ve gotten better at traveling and playing pick-up sports, I see that these pastimes help to wipe out my hang-ups. They help to expand my mind to the possibilities of how to relate to people in this crappy, beautiful world. My ability to travel to new places and appreciate what I see is a testament to my openness to changing the world so more people can thrive in it. Life’s goal is simply for my team to win. Anyone can be on my team, anywhere, and any time. When I travel, I keep finding out that anyone can be on my team, and there is actually no limit to how long my roster can get.
Jaime Jones is currently working for the American Planning Association while seeking employment as an environmental and community planner. He is black, a Christian, a suburbanite, and well educated. He often thinks about what it means to be all four at one time. He loves his dog, Moja; his cat, Chalmers; being outdoors; watching anime; and traveling any chance he gets. Jaime lives in the South Suburbs of Chicago.