I cannot be the only person who has questioned the usefulness of national awareness days, weeks and months. The confusion is only compounded by the myriad of unofficial holidays that celebrate trivial things such as pancakes, old rocks, umbrellas, or my two favorites, Star Wars day (“May the fourth be with you”) and Pi day.
October, perhaps the most recognized example of an “awareness month,” has just passed us by. The nationwide observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month inspired all kinds of events, parades and social media activity throughout the month. Did you know, however, that the month of October alone is associated with over a dozen other health awareness causes?
In fact, a list of “major health awareness months, weeks and days” found on Healthline.com includes a 35 bullet–point list for the month of October alone. My question is, why? What is this accomplishing?
I began to realize the answer when one particular cause hit home. I learned last month that October is also National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I was tipped off by a cute social media post that informed me just why it is that my daughter has only one palmar crease that runs the width of her right hand.
Our little girl is nearly a year old now. The education we have received in that time with regards to Down syndrome has not only calmed the terror that had initially filled our hearts, but replaced it with joy and compassion for her and others with similar struggles.
Our daughter’s condition is not taboo. We are delighted to answer questions, share what we know and spread awareness in order to put to bed some of the misconceptions and negative stereotypes that exist.
Luckily my wife was away and my daughter was asleep in my arms as I watched a video where a man named Frank Stephens declared before a congressional committee, “I am a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living.” They did not see me crying like a baby as I listened to his testimony against abortion as a “final solution” for Down syndrome.
Even though a cause so pertinent to my own life may have been somewhat lost among simultaneously–occurring awareness campaigns, it still provided an opportunity for voices to be heard.
These awareness opportunities are perhaps all the more meaningful for individuals whose disabilities or health concerns are not so apparent. I have considered that it will oftentimes be to my daughter’s benefit that her particular disability will be physically evident throughout her life. She will likely garner more compassion and understanding from peers and strangers than someone whose disability bares no physical indication.
The month of November serves as an awareness month for many issues and health concerns, including Alzheimer’s disease, hospice and home care, epilepsy and premature birth. Though none of these have touched my life directly, you and I have friends or family who have been impacted by one or another of these issues.
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from all of this is that each of us would do well to be kind, and show interest in our neighbor. We are most likely unaware of the outstanding circumstances affecting the lives of our peers, our teachers, and the strangers we come in contact with from day to day. They each merit our compassion.