Wednesday night I did something it’s common knowledge you should never do before bed. I thought I’d take a quick stroll through the global news. What I soon realized was that my feed was filled to the brim of people in mourning for a father and his 23-month-old baby girl.
On June 24, Óscar Alberto Martinez and his toddler, Valeria, were swept into a current and drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. His wife, Tania, saw the entire thing from nearby. I’ve seen several reports on what happened. It’s hard to know what are facts and what is speculation and what is misunderstood or told in a way to be sensational.
What I do know is that the photo and what I came to understand of their story rocked me. Wednesday night at 11:00 p.m., I sat on the end of my bed and sobbed.
As I looked at the photo that has now gone viral, my mind began to whirl. My heart shattered thinking about the weight of being a parent. Not just in the big ways like hoping for a better future for them, but in the small ways too. Like when we hope they’ll trust us when we tell them not to run into traffic or get too close to a lit flame.
I can’t begin to fathom what the moments must have been like leading up to when the current overtook them. Was Valeria nervous about the water? Were her parents doing everything they could to convince her it would be okay?
When you’re a toddler, so much of the world feels uncertain. And when you’re the parent of a toddler, one of your main desires is to teach them to be brave.
Last weekend, my husband and I took our son, Landon, to the lake. After riding around in the boat for a while, we decided to go swimming. Landon was not excited about the water at first. He cried. He clung to my neck. He whimpered, “No. No. Boat! Boat,” urging us to put him back on dry land.
Landon didn’t have to swim. As his parents, we had so many options.
The option to let him get back on the boat.
The option to go back to shore.
The option to go home.
The option to try again next time.
Wednesday, as I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed, I couldn’t get over how unfair it was that our human experience could be so vastly different. Valeria was 23 months old. Landon is 22 months old. They could have been playmates. I bet he would have loved her big eyes and dark, thick hair.
It wrecks me that my life is full of options, and that Óscar Martinez felt he had no other option than to tuck his baby girl into his shirt and do his best.
Part of what pushed Óscar Martinez to bring his family into the water was that he felt unheard after waiting two months in Mexico with no response from the U.S. authorities. He couldn’t go back home, yet nobody would help him move forward.
There are many who will say Óscar and Tania did have options. But I agree with Jeremy Courtney from Preemptive Love, who in a video posted June 26, said:
“I plead with you to think about how bad things must be to take such a risk. To where the risk doesn’t even seem like the worst thing. The thing behind you, chasing you, is what seems so scary that the risk your child would die while swimming across a powerful river is the lesser of scary things you’re facing today.”
Again, my life is so different. If I feel unheard, I always have the choice to shop elsewhere, go to a different doctor, or move to a new community.
These past few days, I can’t help feeling similarly to the way I did in the days following 9-11. I didn’t know anyone who had been killed, I’d only visited New York City once on a day trip, and we still didn’t understand who our enemy was. Yet I knew, even at the age of 16, that the moment that terrorist attack was set in motion, the fabric of our nation would change forever.
As I look at the current state of America, I can’t help thinking we’re again in a pivotal moment. We will forever remember—and very well should—the injustices that have taken place at the gateways to our country.
I’ve never visited Mexico. I don’t personally know anyone who has been impacted. I have zero influence with our world leaders and no confidence they would listen were I to speak up. But I’m a mom and a wife and a follower of Jesus, and I can’t allow myself to look back on what I only hope will become a historical moment and not our new reality, and tell myself, “I was there. But I didn’t show up.”
The past few days, I’ve spent a lot of time on Google trying to figure out what the average housewife from suburban Georgia can do. I’ve been discouraged by my limited options, being as I don’t have any legal, political, or humanitarian background. If you know of any ways to lean in, I’d be grateful to hear them. Please send me a message and let me know.
In the mean time, I’d like to point you to two places I’ve found to be helpful as I process our border crisis, especially as it pertains to children and families. The first is Brené Brown. I follow her on Instagram and find her to be well-informed and no nonsense.
The other is an organization called Preemptive Love. They’ve been working with refugees and asylum seekers across the globe for years. It’s heartbreaking that the time has come for them to bring their expertise to the U.S. border, but they’re showing up in big ways.
I’ll be honest, making a financial donation is not my gut response to what’s taking place. My desire is to run to these families, hold crying babies, to look their mothers and fathers in the eyes and show them compassion. To do something that will make them feel their voices matter. But I do know that in times like this, one of the best things we can do is speak up for the vulnerable and prop up the people and organizations that best know how to help.
I can’t fix what’s broken in this world.
But I can make the world better today than it was yesterday.
To the family and friends of Óscar Martinez, I’m so sorry for your loss. Nobody should ever have to bear the weight of losing their child—whether it’s your adult son now a father and husband himself or the sweet baby who had her entire life ahead of her.