Remembering December 2
Sydney M. Williams
Decemember 2, 2009
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”Book of Revelation 22:13
“And in the end, it is not the years in your life that count.
It is the life in your years.”Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
December 2 is a date to remember. On this date in 1763 the first synagogue in what would become the United States was built – Touro Synagogue in, of all places, Newport, Rhode Island. Shabbat services are still held, on Friday’s at 6:00PM and Saturday’s at 8:45AM. On December 2, 1804, Napoleon had himself crowned Emperor of France. John Brown was hanged on this date in 1859 for leading a raid against the United States arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, in what would be a precursor of the Civil War. It was also on this date in 1942, under the stands at Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, that Enrico Fermi produced the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction, and the atomic age was born. And on December 2, 1981 Britney Spears was born.
However, for me, my family and my siblings December 2 has had a very special meaning. The day has meant birth and it has brought death.
It was on this date that my brother Stuart was born in 1950. The seventh of nine children, Stuart was born with a condition – at the time unidentified – but now known as Prader-Willi Syndrome. Prader-Willi is a rare genetic disorder, in which seven genes on chromosome fifteen are deleted or unexpressed in the paternal chromosome. The disorder affects approximately one in every eighteen thousand births. It was first described in 1956 by Andrea Prader and Heinrich Willi and a team of researchers in Switzerland. The syndrome is accompanied with an insatiable appetite and manifests itself in obesity, small stature, delayed puberty, small hands and feet and some learning disorders. There is no known cure.
Stuart has handled the cards he was dealt, with a remarkable resilience, good humor and an independence unexpected in one so afflicted. He now lives in Texas about a hundred miles west of Dallas, reads more than most people I know and pursues a career as an artist, following in the steps of our parents.
December 2 was also the date on which three people very close to me died – my father, my mother and sister. My father died in 1968, at 58, after a ten month bout with lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. My mother died at 79 during the night of December 2-3 twenty-two year later in 1990. Stuart, who was the only one home at the time, is certain she died on the 2nd. So, if that date is good enough for Stuart, it is good enough for me. My sister Mary died, like my father at age 58, on the same date in 1997, after a five year battle with breast cancer that had metastasized to bone cancer.
So, to me and my family, the day is exceptional – a day for remembrance. It marks the Alpha and Omega of life. After my father’s death, on Stuart’s 18th birthday, my mother, in comforting Stuart who felt terribly about the timing (and my mother little realizing the importance the date would play in her life), stressed the special meaning the date would always hold.
Stuart’s birth gave life to a wonderful, creative man whose art now hangs in museums and who, in the manner in which he has handled his disabilities, has inspired all who know him. The deaths of my parents and my sister, all of whom died too early but all of whom took Lincoln’s words as their maxim, serve as a reminder of the sweetness of life and the importance of living well each day. The three live on in memory.
Nevertheless, despite the singularity of the day and no matter how much I honor it, and, while not really superstitious, I always awake with a sigh of relief on December 3rd.