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Awareness awareness

If you drive, breathe, or wander through Walmart, you are aware of awareness ribbons.

These symbolic loops of color adorn bumpers and lapels, and proclaim to the world that the wearer wants other people to be aware of his or her particular issue.

It turns out, though, that awareness ribbons aren’t as straightforward as we think.

The Research Department looked into this and discovered that awareness is fraught with confusion. We did some research, and now we have no idea what we’re supposed to be aware of.

There are 31 separate colors of awareness ribbons. So far, so good. The problem is, each of those colors stands for multiple things. I am not kidding.

These range from the “rainbow ribbon” that denotes gay pride and only gay pride, to the light blue ribbon, which represents (and I am not making this up) 67 separate things, ranging from the relatively mild alopecia (baldness), to the mysterious Shprintzen Syndrome (a congenital birth disorder), to the gigantic categories of “education” and “men’s health.”

Who knew that men’s health has its own ribbon, or that it’s light blue?

Furthermore, how do we know whether the person sporting the light blue ribbon is in favor of water quality or suffering from Erb’s palsy?

The ribbon can also mean Addison’s disease, Bechet’s disease, colon cancer, dystonia, free speech, Graves’ disease, Hurricane Katrina, ichthyosis, Klinefelter’s syndrome, lymphedema, myositis, pro choice, restless legs syndrome, Save the Music in Our Schools, Teens Against Smoking, victim’s rights, and 20 other things, too.

How embarrassing would it be to reveal to your new light-blue-ribbon-sporting friend that you, too, suffer from familial polyposis, only to find that this person is actually raising awareness for child abuse prevention?

Other awareness ribbon colors do not fare any better. Even the pink ribbon, long associated with breast cancer, also raises awareness for (and remember, I am not inventing ANY of this), birth parents, cleft palate, and nursing mothers.

The yellow ribbon long associated with deployed troop support, also indicates awareness of adoptive parents, amber alerts, bladder cancer (!), hope, suicide prevention, spina bifida, and hydrocephalus.

How are we to differentiate?

Asking a white-ribbon-wearer about his or her awareness issue is like walking through a minefield.

If you’re lucky, they’ll be opposing the war or supporting safe motherhood. If you’re not lucky, they’re a molestation survivor or a victim of terrorism. In between, they could be raising awareness of teen pregnancy, osteoporosis, elderly affairs, and hernias.

Good luck determining which that is.

Brown ribbons could mean colon cancer or tobacco awareness. We’re not sure exactly what “tobacco awareness” means, so we’re trying to just generally be aware of tobacco, as in, “Look, isn’t that tobacco?”

A burgundy ribbon could mean adhesions or aneurysm, and it’s important not to confuse the two. Burgundy also is the awareness ribbon color for hospice, headaches, and Cesarean births.

Then there’s black. We all recognize that black ribbon is the symbol of mourning, but before you go offering sympathy to the wearer of one, you need to make sure they are not merely indicating Amish support. (No, I am still not making anything up.)

They could also be wearing a black ribbon for gun control, sleep apnea, or gang prevention.

The green ribbon might represent environmental issues, but it might also mean that the wearer is a proponent of literacy, organ donation, safe driving, open records for adoptees or freedom.

He or she could be suffering from depression, glaucoma, kidney disease, or Tourette’s syndrome. The color can also denote “growth and rebuilding,” “save Darfur,” and “bone marrow donation.”

A red ribbon might be AIDS awareness or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. A teal ribbon could be anything from anxiety disorder to support for tsunami victims. In between, it might mean food allergies, fragile X, OCD, or ectodermal dysphasia, whatever that is.

The Research Department got as far as the light purple ribbon of epilepsy and foster care and had to go lie down, where it was immediately pounced on by the dog.

We did not find a ribbon that raises awareness of people covered in dog hair, but we think there should be one. The dog-hair-awareness ribbon will not have a color; it will just be covered in hair.

Even then, we’re sure that within two weeks it will be the awareness ribbon of six unrelated diseases and the SPCA. At least one of those will make sense.

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