Many of you know that I enjoy music. I have a fairly varied taste when it comes to artists and musical styles. This year the best album I’ve heard, bar none is “The Prodigal Son” by Ry Cooder.
Some people will see his name and remark it sounds kind of funny.
Cooder may not be a household name to many reading this column, but he’s well-known among musicians. A quick Google search will show his lengthy library of recordings, whether they are his own or other artists he’s collaborated with.
A song on “The Prodigal Son” that has stuck with me is an old traditional song once sung by Blind Willie Johnson called “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right.”
I’ve thought of that song often this year as conflicts at our southern border surrounding those seeking asylum in our country has played out time and time again in Washington, D.C. and on television.
The song is simple in its style, with fewer than 100 words. In some ways, it reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book. You may remember that Dr. Seuss could say a lot with just a few words.
“Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, long ways from home” it begins. Another line warns listeners to be careful of how strangers are treated, saying, “you must always treat a poor stranger right and accept him in your home.”
That song has been on my mind the last few days as U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials reported the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl. She died of dehydration and septic shock last week in El Paso, Texas after being taken into custody by the border patrol after crossing illegally into the United States with her father.
The girl and her father were part of a large group of migrants who were taken into custody in New Mexico.
I have to think that somewhere along the journey, whether in this country or in others they crossed trying to reach the United States, there was an opportunity for someone to shelter a stranger.
This isn’t an argument for open or closed borders. Countries have a right to protect their borders. But I honestly don’t understand how a 7-year-old girl is a threat to anyone.
I also think it’s a fairly safe assumption that the trip was too hard on her and her health was already severely compromised by the time border patrol agents arrested her father and her. All the more need for shelter along the way.
Our elected officials can’t seem to agree on what to do. Both Democrats and Republicans have kicked the can of immigration reform down the road for a long time. Occasionally, one side will call the other names over their stand on the issue.
We can do better as a nation. Name-calling rarely gets anything accomplished.
The song ends with “all of us down here are strangers, none of us have no home.” It reminds us we’re all just visiting down here. It also makes me think we only have so much time to do as much good as we can before we leave.
So, you’ve learned the names of a couple of obscure musicians I listen to in Ry Cooder and Blind Willie Johnson.
It took officials seven days before they were able to identify the seven-year-old. Her name was Jakelin Amei Caal Maquin. In her final moments, I hope someone was able to comfort her and perhaps hold her hand.
She was a stranger a long way from home.