No Pasa Nada

“Do not be to timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. what if they are a little coarse and you get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Nothing happens.”

The first time I heard this common Spanish phrase was three weekends ago when we went to my nephew, Mateo’s soccer game (or as I’m now learning to say, fútbol match). There are few things more joyous than a bunch of seven year olds running around the pitch for an hour caught up in the spirit of the game. As my brother says, at this age they are still earnest and sportsmanlike and don’t yet seem to understand playing dirty. The two teams march out on the field together at the beginning of the match in a show of solidarity. At the conclusion they line up and slap hands, congratulating the winners. They celebrate each other for good plays and console one other for less-than-stellar ones, often extending these kindnesses to friends who just so happen to be on the opposing team.

Even for the little dudes, the matches are played in full-size stadiums (albeit on half the field) complete with lights, scoreboards, locker rooms and showers. The players on each team are furnished with ID cards and a few different uniforms to distinguish between home games, away games and the playoffs. They are already strong players and a kid is able to move up over the years with the league. Yet by and large the family members and friends in the stands are relaxed and supportive. It’s hard not to be. In spite of the official and professional setting, the concession stands, even at these early Saturday morning games, are doing a booming business in beer and shots of liquor in addition to the espresso, sodas, chips, candy, and heavenly “pan con tomate.”

Mateo’s teammate, a towhead kid whose jersey hangs down almost to the hem of his shorts, misses a kick. It’s unusual for him. Like Mateo, he’s one of the better players. Without missing a beat, Paul, my brother, yells out “No pasa nada, Alex! No pasa nada.” Mateo, hearing his dad’s voice, glances up and gives a quick smile. It’s the first time I’ve heard the phrase and I don’t know what it means. Without taking his eyes off the field, Paul explains that the literal translation is “nothing happens,” but it means “no worries,” “no big deal,” “let it go.” I like it. No pasa nada. In a flash I see its application for just about everything in life, and for me it appeared as a gift after a particularly rough morning, where for a couple hours, I found myself wracked by a brief but profound episode of self-doubt, fear, and homesickness: “WTF have we done?” “Did we seriously just pick up and move to another country?” “What if I fail?” “What if this all spectacularly implodes?” “What if I look like an idiot?”

Then I recall Mateo’s dazzling blue eyes as he grins up at us in the stands wrapped in his little seven-year-old world of security, wisdom, and self-assuredness.

Eh…no pasa nada…

No Pasa Nada
Mateo y Paul, after another winning game.

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