the first time i remember hearing people talk about occurrences being the will of God was when i saw the movie "lawrence of arabia." perhaps it was the newness of the context that grabbed my attention to the custom, because i don't remember having ever heard people around me say, "God willing," or "that is the way God wills it." i'm quite sure phrases like that must have been whispered at funerals or in conversations about ill friends and family, but the fact is that it really wasn't a part of popular vocabulary. it never was until now.
my way of seeing and understanding the world around me has always had its roots in the christian faith, and i don't think i could ever stop believing that things have happened in my life for a good reason, or for a cause larger than my own individual plans. but i'm an american, born and raised in a culture that still retains a lot of its puritan philosophical foundations, so i also can't help but believe that free will, hard work, and well-considered decisions play a huge role in determining the outcomes of my plans and what happens to me in the future.
i also understand that the decisions other people make, no matter how seemingly insignificant they may seem, affect me in ways i can never fully know. i'm a small part of a big web; no matter how early i leave the house to make it on time for my vacation flight, if someone is running late for a meeting, makes a hasty lane-switch on the highway, flips the car and causes a monumental traffic jam, i'm simply going to miss my flight.
but something i'd never given a lot of thought to was the ever-existing possibility that, before i even tried to realize my plans, God or the greater cause would not want it to happen. this is not to say that i don't keep my antenna waves free when making a decision, trying to pick up vibes that might point me in another direction. but once i've set my mind on something, i usually forget that i'm still not entirely in control of the unfolding situation.
after having been in Mexico for only a few weeks, though, i noticed how different the worldview can be here in terms of future plans. i continue to be caught off guard fairly often when talking about my plans with other people; from going to see a movie on thursday night to spending a weekend in acapulco, the other person often responds first by saying, "primero Dios" (literally, "God first"). initially, it was a little unsettling to hear people say that--it felt like they were qualifying my plans, as if God likely wouldn't want me to enjoy my popcorn in the movie theater after all.
i finally realized, however, that it's not really the case. whether or not the speaker really believes that the situation is in the hands of God, saying "primero Dios," "primeramente Dios," "Dios primero," etc., is like using a sort of verbal talisman. the nicaraguan linguist, jimmy aviles, put it nicely, saying that the words serve as a security measure, a profession of confidence and faith.
the person i know best who says it the most is our dear friend, elidia. she has worked for patricio's family for at least fifteen years, has lived through a lot of tough times, possesses a profound well of wisdom, and offers help at any opportunity. it's not hard to see that she really does believe our lives are entirely in the hands of God. i still haven't developed the habit of thinking or saying, "primero Dios," when plans are involved, but i don't mind piggy-backing onto elidia's faith when she says it for me.
i would love to know more about how certain phrases pass into or out of popular usage in different countries and cultures. clearly, saying "primero Dios" here has a lot to do with being a generally conservative catholic country. but i also wonder if it has to do with other, underlying cultural viewpoints. it seems logical to me that a country populated by this particular race would continue to incorporate such phrases into the common vocabulary. the aztecs ruled themselves and their subjects in a theocracy. the maya also governed theocratically. and in spite of ulterior motives and often barbarous methods, the spanish did a phenomenal job of integrating catholicism into the country's religious, cultural and governmental framework. beyond this, though, i also think of how i might see the world and life if i were a descendant of people who had been oppressed for hundreds of years. because of religion, a caste system, lack of education, or general corruption of the powers that be, i imagine that an inherited sense of resignation to fate would also keep talismanic phrases in style. all this is pure conjecture, and probably doesn't really matter. elidia has found a sense of equilibrium in life between her personal wishes and reality, and that seems very healthy to me. primero Dios, we'll take her out to dinner for her birthday on saturday night.