I Remember Josh

July 11, 2008
By Soukee Van Orden, Fayetteville, NY

Two lives, two boys, two families. One great big tragedy.
Josh was born on September 26th, 1989.
He grew up with his mother, father, and younger brother Louis in the FM district in New York. During adolescence his parents were divorced and both of them remarried. From kindergarten to sixth grade, Josh attended the Syracuse Hebrew Day School, a Jewish private school in the town of Dewitt. There he made a lasting impression and won the ‘Mensch’ award at the end of the 6th grade school year. To be awarded a ‘mensch’ is a great honor, for a ‘mensch’ is a righteous, or honorable, person. From there he went on to attend Wellwood Middle School and then FM High School.
Josh was definitely a one-of-a-kind type of boy. He loved to hang out and just be himself with his friends, accepting new challenges wherever they arose. He was fun, carefree, and became extremely charming as he grew older. Josh spent 10 of his summers at Camp Schodack, where he went from being a regular camper to an activity counselor, winning the “Most Spirited Leadership Training Award”. After his anticipated graduation, Josh has planned to take a trip to Africa and help build schools. But he never had the opportunity. On April 30th of last year, Josh and his friend Kevin accidentally plunged off a cliff in Kinsella Quarry in Manlius, killing both of them the next day.
When I hear people talking about Josh , all I hear about is how good he was, how kind and thoughtful and generous he was to each and every person he met. But at the same time, Josh was in no way perfect. He made many of the same mistakes that other teens make, and made decisions that turned out to be bad choices. But I don’t want to diminish the benevolence he had in him or the fact that he had so much power and potential and wanted to use it to help the world. I think that’s a big reason why this tragedy hurt so may people in the community, even the people who didn’t know either of the boys-because a person who could have done so much good in the world was taken from us out of nowhere, and we are left to grieve the loss.
I chose to memorialize Josh by building a model pediatric hospital knowing that he wanted to be a pediatrician. Painted on the doors leading into the hospital are two red hands, which symbolize Josh’s kindness and his desire to help people in need. There is a tree out in the front with exactly 18 red stones-one for all 17 years of his life and one more. They also symbolize all 18 attributes which Josh brought to being a ‘mensch’. The tree itself symbolizes Josh’s life, a bit like a life cycle. Although it’s not circular, this tree’s life begins in the spring, and it grows and grows all through summer. But when it gets to fall, the leaves start to drop, leaving the tree bear and dead through the winter. This is just like the life cycle of a person-they grow and grow until their life ends. But Josh wasn’t finished growing, which is why I used a tree to symbolize his life- Because the tree grows on, and continues to live, while Josh’s life was ended. The tree is living for Josh. Underneath the tree I place a photograph of him, a Gianelli t-shirt, and an Israeli flag. The Israeli flag symbolizes Josh’s love and enthusiasm of Judaism. The Gianelli t-shirt was placed under the tree in my memorial for a very important reason. When visiting the school after Josh’s death, his mother saw one of his favorite Gianelli t-shirts hanging on the memorial at the school. When she asked where it came from, one of his friends answered, “You know Josh-he probably gave someone the shirt off his back.” May this be a symbol for us all to give someone the shirt off our backs. And in the dedication I wrote the following:
In fond memory of Joshua
(September 26th, 1989 – May 1st, 2007)

A son, a brother, a grandchild, a best friend
But most of all,
A man with an unwavering spirit
Who has been taken from the earth too soon.
But behind him he’s left a trail-a trail we shall all come upon.
A trail of knowledge, of kindness, of forgiveness.

I dedicate this Joshua Pediatric Hospital to Joshua himself,
The man who wanted to help people heal
And fix a little piece of the earth for all of us.
The hospital is a symbol of all he was, all he stood for, and all he could have been

May we all one day come across his path and take a journey towards our dreams.

I then added the chorus from the song “I’ll be Missin’ You”, a song that became very popular in the high school after his death:

Every step I take, every move I make
Every single day, every time I pray
I’ll be missing you
Thinking of the day, when you went away
What a life to take, what a bond to break
I’ll be missing you.
Memorials help to recognize and honor those whose lives have influenced other people to better their lives as well as reach out and help heal and stand up for the ones who may not be strong enough to do it themselves. Part of the reason why I chose to memorialize Josh was because of what he meant to people. He reached out and touched people’s lives with his kindness and showed how much he really and truly cared. This memorial also helps to sum up the FM tragedy in 2007, which took the lives of two promising seniors, not just one. Everyone in the FM school district will remember forever the day that both Josh and Kevin were taken from the world. It can help caution not only children but adults too, about the risks that teens take to try to grow up and break away. We can all come to understand that life is too fragile to take risks that can result in lives being lost. But most of all, this memorial for Josh can help us heal the wounds. We can remember the life that Josh lived and hope that we can all live in the image of his wonderful attitude and ways of righteousness.
After his death, Josh’s little brother, Louis, wrote about Josh, saying, “Josh was a very good man in my eyes. He had every good thing to say to people always. When you would enter a room with him you would know that he was there. He always lit up a room all the time. I could never find one person that didn’t like him. I can say truthfully that guys at the school wanted to be like him and girls wanted to date him. He will never be forgotten…” And Louis was absolutely right. Josh will never be forgotten.

The author's comments:
This nonfiction piece was originally a homework assignment that was written to accompany a physical memorial which was built to remember someone who passed away. For me, it was Josh, a boy who had died in our school district. I memorialized his life and what he meant to people. This was written one year after his death.

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