Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
America seems to have an obsession with awareness. As I drove down Washington Avenue in Cedarburg last week I observed a sign declaring October 21 to October 27 as National Massage Therapist Awareness Week. I must admit being a little nonplussed at first. I wasn’t quite sure whether, the next time I see a massage therapist, I should buy a Hallmark card or call the police. After all, October is also National Cyber Security Awareness Month. In as much as there is also an Alcohol Awareness Month (April) and an Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 24 – March 1), and in light of the fact that the massage therapist is just down the street from Otto’s Beverage Center, I wondered if they are both aware of each other. It seems, however, that Massage Therapy Awareness Week is different from Oral Cancer Awareness Week (April 11 – 17) or National Headache Awareness Week (June 11 – 17), as I assume that massage therapy is a good thing and the others are bad – unless you are a married woman and it is important for your husband to be aware of your headache as you crawl into bed.
I looked up the definition of “awareness” and it means to be vigilant or watchful. I concluded that we are being bombarded with reminders to be vigilant and watchful for both good and bad things – some very important, and some so trivial that you wonder if it isn’t a prank. I began to wonder what sorts of things were so important that our government felt that they needed an officially designated day, week, or month for us to be reminded to be aware of them, and where all of these awareness observances came from. It turns out that some observance periods are federally designated, like National Domestic Violence Week. But the state legislatures are busy at work also with things like Connecticut Severe Storms Awareness Week, Wisconsin Heat Awareness Day (interestingly, Florida does not have such a day), Ohio’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, or the one day covers all Pennsylvania Warning Day. Louisiana saved tax dollars by combining two dangers into Louisiana Lightning and Heat Awareness Week. Sometimes organizations or activist groups simply declare awareness days without official permission or legislation. Maybe an Unofficial Awareness Day Awareness Day is in order.
Many of these awareness observances are for very important and significant social issues or problems. AIDS is a serious social problem that deserves awareness. Yet, some AIDS observances are rather quite specific and needlessly segregated, such as National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (October 15) and National Black AIDS Awareness Day (February 7). This is in addition to World AIDS Day (December 1), National Womens & Girls AIDS Awareness Day (March 10), American Asian and Pacific Islander AIDS Awareness Day (May 19), Caribbean American AIDS Awareness Day (June 8), and National Native AIDS Awareness Day (March 20). It seems that white American males don’t get AIDS. Perhaps one AIDS Awareness Day for everyone would be in order. We apparently need a national coxswain to shout out orders and synchronize these observance periods so we’re all rowing at the same time. That person, in turn, could be appreciated during Physical Fitness and Sports Month (April) or, as the word “coxswain” is shouted out at the top of somebody’s lungs, during New York’s or Idaho’s Tourette’s Syndrome Awareness Month (May 15 to June 15), both of which mysteriously straddle two different months. Unfortunately, both New York and Idaho were not aware that the Gipper himself declared November 2 through November 8 as National Tourette’s Syndrome Awareness Week in 1987.
Some observances don’t even make me aware when I know it’s their turn – like GERD Awareness Week. I had to resort to the internet to learn that GERD is an acronym for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. With some health awareness initiatives we apparantly don’t need to be aware of the disease, rather, we have to be aware of the screening process – Hemochromatosis Screening Awareness Week – which makes you wonder if you are to avoid the disease or the screening. IBS Month sounded like a reason to throw a party until I learned it was Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month.
Exactly when an issue warrants a day, as opposed to a week or month for observance still has me puzzled. The Earth gets a day (April 22), while Administrative Professionals get a whole week (April 20 – 26). Fireworks Safety gets a whole month (June) – even though we only use fireworks one day a year – in a different month altogether. National Parental Involvement gets only a day (November 15), but fear not, as National Family Week runs from November 18 to 24, in case you forgot November 15. When something really cries out for public awareness, however, it appears entirely appropriate to devote both a day, and an additional separate week to the matter. Case in point: this October 7-13 marks the first National Squirrel Awareness Week - not to be confused with National Squirrel Appreciation Day, which typically falls on January 21. However, they have separated Dog Appreciation Month (April) from Cat Appreciation Month (January).
I was certain that there were not any awareness periods that lasted the entire year – but I was wrong. 2002 was Autism Awareness Year, 2003 was Asthma Awareness Year, and 2004 was Pneumonia Awareness Year. 2005 went to Pain, and 2006 was Asperger’s Awareness’s turn - although this seemed to be a repeat of 2002, as Asperger’s is one of several autism spectrum disorders. I was not aware of that. 2007 goes to – the envelope please – Malaria. I assumed that we never have to be aware of pain again (2005 is gone), until I discovered that every September is Pain Awareness Month.
Some appreciation observances may leave certain individuals or issues feeling ignored or unappreciated. Take National Incredible Kids Day (March 20) for example, which is great for my kids, but what about everybody else’s? Virginia School Board Appreciation Month (February) is great for the Newport News School Board, but might leave the Cedarburg School Board feeling a little out in the cold, and there are only twelve months in a year, so some school boards will just have to do without. I guess it’s first come, first serve. Wait! Never mind. January is School Board Recognition Month in Oregon and throughout the United States, so everybody is covered. April is Mathematics Education Month, but history and science apparently didn’t make the cut. Oregon has a taxpayer funded website with ideas on how to help celebrate Mathematics Education Month – but don’t worry about it or party too hard because April is also Alcohol Awareness Month and Stress Awareness Month.
Sometimes similar issues that need appreciating bump heads – like National School Breakfast Week and National School Psychologists Week – both celebrated heavily during the same week in March. However, somebody is going to get failing marks in school because the former is only celebrated for five days – two days short of a full week – and lunch was ignored altogether. Not to be outdone, National Music In Our Schools Month trumps them both and takes up the entire month of March. School psychologists are again honored during National Educational Support Professionals Day (November 14), but only one card is necessary.
And then there are the genuinely absurd days of awareness. January is National Oatmeal Month – not quite on par with Church Library Month in October. I wasn’t even aware that my church had a library, probably because they don’t. February is Sinus Pain Awareness Month (headaches only got a week in June). February 14 (appropriately enough I suppose), is National Condom Day. Apparantly, on the third Saturday in October - Sweetest Day – we don’t need the reminder about protection, because October is also Clergy Appreciation Month. May is Correct Posture Month, as well as a month dedicated to the awareness and appreciation of smiles, salsa, vinegar, ultra-violet (all other light spectrums are ignored), hamburgers (without cheese), eggs, photos, and teen self-esteem. June 10 is National Yo-Yo Day, right in the middle of National Accordian Month. July 14, Bastille Day in France, is Nude Day in America; purely a coincidence, I’m sure. August 1 through August 7 is officially World Breastfeeding Week. September 22 is Elephant Appreciation Day, but apparantly there is no appreciation for lions and tigers and bears, oh my, and the post office is open.
Super human achievement is appreciated as well. This year, the second Wednesday in October was declared International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction by the U.N. General Assembly. That was right about when the California fires started burning. October 22, besides being Stuttering Day, also is Used Car Day. October 26 is Mule Day. I am either unaware or have forgotten the difference between a mule and an ass - the latter of which, sadly, is not as well respected as the former and therefore has no awareness day. November 22 is Start Your Own Country Day, although this is something that should have been given a week or a month. There’s not much you can do in a day, but it’s still on the books. Interestingly, December 8 through December 14 is National Hand Washing Awareness Week. I was not aware of that.
Maybe I didn’t appreciate what I was getting into as I wondered about the National Massage Therapist Awareness Week sign in the window that morning. Delving into the subject of national awareness was akin to falling helplessly down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole – and it made me aware of how unaware I truly am. There are things in life that we need to be reminded to be aware of as members of the human race, and, well, things we don’t. The problem, it seems, as I stress over what sort of card to get my massage therapist, is that the really important reminders are being muted and obfuscated by the overabundance of the quite silly and absolutely needless ones – and that is a problem we need to be aware of.