As I write this article I am conscious of the fact that Wednesday 9th March is this year's No Smoking Day. Once again, there will be substantial local and national news items aimed at trying to persuade people of the sense in stopping smoking and to highlight the assistance available to smokers in order to raise their chance of achieving this more than sensible aim.
Laudable though this endeavour is, it has made me ponder the wisdom of having specific days set aside for highlighting such issues. After all, in respect to the subject of smoking cessation, it is not as though the problems of smoking are not highlighted all year round through a variety of sources and not least of all from GPs. I am sure smokers must be surprised these days if they can attend their surgery and come away without having been advised that they should stop smoking. Of course, it is also only eight weeks since we underwent the joyful celebration of welcoming the New Year; is it really the case that we have already forgotten our well-intended resolutions that we need an entire day set aside as a reminder of specific ones?
I do not mean to sound negative over such important issues. Stopping smoking is one of the most important health-enhancing activities a person can take, and I am all for stressing the importance of being smoke-free. However, I am concerned that by having specific days set aside in the year to highlight such matters, rather than lending renewed emphasis to the subject we run the risk of reducing the impact to just a twenty-four hour period, after which the topic can be dropped as we prepare for the next one. I have the feeling that it risks turning important issues into nothing more than the equivalent of a passing festivity. After all, who now holds the memories of the last Christmas festivities foremost in their minds, or can instantly recollect the occasion of their last birthday? Whilst such occasions are very important, we do not continue to lend emphasis to them all year round. However, that is what we should be doing with topics which presently crop up as specific 'Awareness Days'.
A quick survey informs me that we have at least fifty-four observance days set aside as 'world observance days' for the remainder of 2011 (excluding religious festivities, national saints' days, and specific occasions such as Mothers' Day, etc), with many more 'awareness days' on a national basis (over 100 at the last count). The majority of these will no doubt pass unnoticed by the majority of the population, which makes me question the entire purpose. There are now so many that it becomes nonsensical, with a new one almost every other day. Do we run the risk of 'awareness day fatigue' as a result? (Now there is an idea for a new 21st century medical syndrome.)
About ten years ago I lost a well-respected, aristocratic friend and colleague. The week before he died of cancer he attended a black-tie charity ball in London. Remarking on how good it was to see him there, I gently enquired as to how he was getting on. His reply has stayed with me ever since: 'I am alive; it's all that matters', he said. I must think about that comment several times a week. As a result, every day becomes something special, and I often find that my friend's words urge me to squeeze just a bit more out of every day, no matter how busy or tired I am. There is always extra one can do, a resolution to adhere to, a little more to learn, something new to experience or appreciate; and when all else fails, there is the simple act of sitting back and relishing the company of a loved one and simply rejoicing in being alive.
So, for me, all the hundreds of 'awareness days' and 'world observance days' amount to very little. I prefer to make every day an 'I am Alive Awareness Day'. As my friend said, that is all that really matters.
First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 3rd March 2011