Joey’s fourth grade teacher gave a touching speech at Joey’s memorial service.
Your hands. Ever since I went to visit you in the hospital last week, your hands are all I think about. Your perfect, beautiful hands. As I touched and caressed your hands, I felt your pulse and how alive you made me feel, and I realized that your hands speak volumes about your soul.
From the day a baby is born, every parent announces the birth of his child and lets everyone know that he has ten fingers and ten toes. You, Joey, your parents’ firstborn, were no different. I can only imagine the joy in your parents’ faces when they saw the five fingers on each little hand and the thoughts of what would unfold in your life because of your handiwork.
You see, your hands symbolized what you became to those who knew you: artist, musician, mathematician, scientist, and origamist.
The first time that I saw your artwork, it left me flabbergasted. Your drawings: detailed and realistic. Your paintings: abstract and colorful. As you know, I always wanted you to paint me a piece, but I knew you were too busy and too popular to create a work for me. I can’t help but smile and laugh out loud every time Mrs. Guarino and I “discussed” who would be the lucky recipient of your artwork. I had to remind her that I asked you first, but you, of course, had the best answer: “I have too many requests. You will have to wait your turn.”
In all seriousness, though, it was your hands that created all of those pieces. Your hands, as an extension of your vision, created artwork that rivals professional artists’ works.
But those hands of yours didn’t stop there. No. Your music touched our lives as well. No matter how tired or how difficult it was to play your violin, you never disappointed. I loved listening to the videos of your performances only wishing that I would have known you sooner to attend a recital. And once again, your hands. Every finger pressed the right string at the right time, and every stroke of the bow moved succinctly with the rhythm of the piece you chose to play.
As one revels in your artistic and musical talents, how could I, your fourth grade enrichment teacher, make no mention of your talents in the classroom? Whether completing math problems for competition or creating solar cars for your science project with “the boys”, you used your hands once again as an extension of your ideas and your knowledge. You could complete math problems with a quickness that could beat middle schoolers, and you put together pieces of a solar car kit with other materials to test the sun’s energy. And thank heavens you were a part of that team because Lord knows you kept them focused on the final product. Sometimes I wondered if your hands held an invisible wand that magically made all the boys in class want to study more and work harder just because you were present.
Of course, everyone knows that you were, and will always be, the origami super star. Your hands created folds on paper that none of us could envision quite like you. I think back to the first time I saw one of your origami pieces. How could I talk science when I saw your folded art opening and closing as if it was a natural thing to do to a piece of paper? Your friends loved your origami art, and your works inspired them to replicate and try new techniques. All because of your hands.
Joey, you were, and are, an inspiration. You had an unparalleled spirit and a passion for doing the best that you had each and everyday, no matter what the circumstance. That, is what made you such a great friend. You never judged, you never ridiculed, you never insulted. You just lived and loved life. And because of your spunk and zest for life, your friends felt better and laughed more. They tried a little harder and learned more. They learned that no matter the battle, their inner strength can overcome.
As that horrible illness raged on in your body, I always knew that you were feeling fine when you brought your sass to class. You see, most teachers wouldn’t want someone to speak his mind like you spoke yours. I, however, LOVED to hear it. It was my comfort because I knew that you were having a good day. I loved sharing “sassy pants” moments with you because those moments told me that you were alive and well, and nothing could stop you from sharing your gifts with us. And on days when I wasn’t sure if you could make it to science, my own selfish comfort came in the form of reaching out my own hands and visiting you in the morning for a hug.
So why do I keep on bringing up hands? God has blessed us with talents and gifts, and it is through us that His handiwork is completed. Joey, you completed His handiwork in ways that even the oldest among us hasn’t ever experienced. You completed His handiwork with more strength, stamina, passion, and love than even the most talented and gifted among us has completed. Your handiwork reflects your spirit, and we know that your spirit lives on in the works you created and the lives you touched. We, in turn, reach out our hands in glory and praise to Him for the gift He gave us. You, Joey, are the gift.
I conclude with words that my husband spoke at our own baby’s funeral mass only three years ago:
With your spirit now among us, it is impossible to deny God’s love and mercy. Your family and friends believe, beyond all doubt, that although your life on earth is finished, your mission has only just begun. Because God reserves his early selections only for the most worthy; and He has chosen you because you are able, and because He has very important work for you to do.
May you rest in peace and may we remember that we can use our hands to reach out to each other in times of despair and hope, and may we raise our hands to Him in thanksgiving for the blessing and gift that was our sweet Joey.