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Precious in God’s sight

In the summer of 2019 a young family set out from their home country of El Salvador to find safety and a new life in America. After a journey of 1500 miles Óscar Ramírez, his wife Ávalos and their 23-month-old daughter Valeria were in sight of Texas. They just had to cross a relatively narrow section of the Rio Grande River. The crossing ended in tragedy. Ávalos watched as Óscar and Valeria were swept away by the river.

Óscar took his daughter across the river and was returning to get his wife when he realised the little girl had not stayed on the bank – she was in the water. Valeria had apparently panicked when she saw her father go back across the river without her. Óscar was able to reach Valeria but couldn’t make it back to the riverbank. A photographer took a heart-breaking photo of Óscar and Valeria lying near the riverbank with their feet in the water and their heads on the reeds. Valeria is tucked into her dad’s T-shirt, as he tried to keep her safe, and her arm is around his neck.

Martín Espada has won the National Book Award for poetry for a collection of poems including the deeply moving poem “Floaters” influenced by the tragic deaths of Óscar and Valeria and many others. The first stanza sets the scene on the border between Mexico and the USA: “Like a beer bottle thrown into the river by a boy too drunk to cry, like the shard of a Styrofoam cup drained of coffee brown as the river, like the plank of a fishing boat broken in half by the river, the dead float. And the dead have a name: floaters, say the men of the Border Patrol, keeping watch all night by the river, hearts pumping coffee as they say the word floaters, soft as a bubble, hard as a shoe as it nudges the body, to see if it breathes, to see if it moans, to see if it sits up and speaks.”

No-one is insignificant in God’s sight. Every human being is precious in his sight. When a child was brought to Jesus he said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” He also told his disciples, “What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

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