Forget a cure for cancer. I want a cure for cause-related months.
Forced into a constant state of awareness, I have no more room left in my brain. I just lost all the state capitals I ever knew. “Sorry, Helena, Montana,” I told it. “But I have to spend that area of my prefrontal cortex being aware of National Oceans.” “That’s not the area of the brain that stores memories,” Helena, Montana, shot back. “I know,” I said. “I lost the knowledge of where in the brain these things are stored during National Building Safety Month last year.”
My inbox is constantly clogged with the joyous news that This Is National Brotherhood Week! and Today We Celebrate Pets.
For instance, according to the presidential proclamations for June, this is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Also Great Outdoors Month. And National Caribbean American Heritage Month. And African-American Music Appreciation Month. And National Oceans Month.
Last month was even more exciting. It was National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, National Foster Care Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Older Americans Month, and National Building Safety Month.
And these are just the ones the government is telling me to observe!
What bothers me about these months, besides the illusion that I am capable of maintaining this much awareness at any given time, is the delusion — perhaps most aptly conveyed in Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week” — that dedicating a month to these things will resolve anything at all.
People once understood this.
Historically, one of the powers of the president is the power to proclaim things. George Washington proclaimed two national days of prayer and left it at that. Then along came John Adams, who, not satisfied with prayer, opted for a “National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” on May 9, 1798, “as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation by the unfriendly disposition, conduct, and demands of a foreign power . . . it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.”
This approach has suffered something of a drop in popularity.
Still, until Woodrow Wilson, the presidents chugged merrily along, commemorating the deaths of their predecessors and dutifully proclaiming Thanksgiving Day without much frill or addition. Then the trickle began.
Wilson proclaimed Flag Day, Ukrainian Relief Day, Red Cross Week, Decoration Day and Boy Scout Week. In the course of an entire presidency, this does not sound like much, but compared to the paucity of proclamations among his predecessors, it was quite a step. Then Warren Harding came into office and did a wonderful job of avoiding any new term. His successors held off as well. Hoover declared May 1 Child Health Day in 1929, but then the Great Depression began and his mind was occupied elsewhere.
But this was not to last.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared Mother’s Day, Jefferson’s Birthday, the 150th anniversary of the Constitution, Employment Week and Employment Sunday, an Aug. 7 Day of Prayer, Bill of Rights Day, Army Day, and suddenly we found ourselves on our present path.
Harry Truman picked up where Roosevelt left off — and how! Mother’s Day. National Rehabilitation Week. Victory in Europe: Day of Prayer. National Farm-Safety Week. Flag Day. Air Force Day. Fire Prevention Week. National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. Columbus Day. General Pulaski’s Memorial Day. Woman’s Enfranchisement Day. Armistice Day. George Washington Carver Day. And that was just in 1945. The following year brought all the same days back, along with new inventions such as “I Am an American Day,” and National Air Mail Week.
As the days and weeks multiplied, they seemed to grow sillier. Nixon declared National Clown Week in 1971 — “Whoever has heard the laughter of a child or seen sudden delight on the face of a lonely old man has understood in those brief moments mysteries deeper than love,” he noted, which when juxtaposed sounds kind of creepy. Ford declared International Clergy Week and Older Americans Month. We celebrated Lithuanian Independence Day in 1990, Be Kind to Animals and National Pet Week, the Decade of the Brain, Ending Hunger Month and even Geography Awareness Week. National Quarter Horse Week was declared in 1990. What was National Radon Action Week? I don’t even want to know. National Good Teen Day happened once in 1993 and then apparently never again.
I have made none of these up. They’re ridiculous enough on their own.
If you count all the days that we are supposed to be celebrating things and appreciating other things and commemorating further things, you wind up totally dazed and overwhelmed and have to go lie down somewhere, muttering “I am an American,” while clowns and oceans dance in your head.
I hope this is doing someone good somewhere. But I sincerely doubt it. If you could actually fix a problem by dedicating a National Week to it, it wouldn’t be a real problem. I’d suggest National Week Against National Weeks, but that might explode if it ever shook hands with itself.
I would suggest we bring back days of humiliation and prayer. But this is humiliating enough.
I’m just praying it goes away.