This story is set in Japan, but it has a familiar echo for Canada, and the west in general, as well:
In her spare time, 46-year-old Japanese eye surgeon Toshiko Horikoshi can be seen pushing a pram around elegant department stores as she shops for designer clothes.
Stop to coo over the pram, however, and you won't be greeted by a baby's smile. You'll face two small snouts.
Ginger, a teacup poodle, and Tinkerbell, a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, accompany Horikoshi everywhere she goes. ..."He's mummy's boy," Horikoshi says, pointing to Ginger, who wears a frilly little T-shirt. "They're like babies."
For Horikoshi, sharing her life with dogs instead of babies is an active choice. She divorced her husband who had asked her to follow Japanese tradition and become a stay-at-home mum; she wanted to pursue her career. Her current partner has to accept that her dogs and her work are at the centre of her life.
... Her friends share her choice. "My friends - married, one poodle, no child. Married, two Chihuahuas, no child. Married, one Chihuahua, no child," she counts off her fingers.
... "I don't want a family, I want to continue to work hard. I don't need help, I don't need a husband. I have a lot of free time, I can do everything by myself," said Horikoshi, who has her own practice and performs 15 eye operations in an afternoon, leaving most mornings free.
"But sometimes I feel lonely, and now when I come back to my apartment, I can see two dogs."
Living for material things is an entirely natural choice; we see them piling up around us, and being tangible things we feel our benefit from them through the expediency of a simple touch. Empty rooms with empty shelves call out to be filled with "stuff", for the more "stuff" we possess then the more we must be, our personal greatness reflected in our personal treasure. That's natural.
Living for a career is also a natural choice; our job can become our life, if we work at something we like doing. Unlike generations past, it's not unreasonable to imagine ourselves with the great good fortune to follow a career of our own choosing, rather than being stuck doing something just for the sake of being employed. If it has become more possible than ever before to pursue the careers of our dreams, what could be more natural than to focus on that career? It's like never having to stop playing. Getting to do what we wish to do: what victory could be sweeter, what objective could be more natural?
Living a life so that we can have children, however, seems to be a very un-natural choice; why choose to give up all that material stuff? Why risk losing the job of our preference, the career path of our dreams? Why take a less-fulfilling job simply because it would let your working schedule conform to the needs of one's children, or shoulder the burden of a begrudged job, one not to our liking, in order to allow a spouse to spend more time with the children? What's natural about sacrificing present luxury... what is it to be sacrifed for?
If children jeapardize the wealth of the wealthy, if they inconvenience the leisure of the leisurely, where is the natural inclination to have kids? It seems as if the incentive must be un-natural, super-natural; that is, springing from outside of nature.... spiritual, not material. There is everything to lose, in a material sense: less time and less money for personal "stuff".
Yet this story from Japan suggests to me that it must still be human nature to have a side pre-occupied with things other than the material. The woman who has everything, from a submissive husband to a fulfilling career, with satisfactory amounts of leisure time, still wants something more... She's "lonely" for it... We might go to great lengths to hide this side of ourselves, and our wealth and our leisure help us as never before to avoid facing it; but still we cannot shake the natural responsibility to live for more than just oneself. We cannot outrun the sense of obligation that haunts us in the dark of night, in the fleeting moments when we look at ourselves in the mirror and see an incomplete person reflected back at us. All this can be as palpable and as material as the fancy clothes and the shiny cars and the condo with the great view that we accumulate to fill the hole. It just requires a certain amount of honesty, and courage, to accept its existence.
Putting a dog in baby clothes; isn't this what little kids do when they play at being adults? These pets aren't much more than elaborate versions of the dolls children play with in their infancy. Such games used to serve a purpose: to teach long-term thinking, to help us, as children naturally attuned into only living for the present, to imagine the existence of the future, not just of ourselves, but our Family. That true growth involves a certain amount of giving, and not just getting. When one's life involves only the material, when it revolves around only things, then giving of oneself, especially the unselfish love that parenting demands, then this becomes a duty harder than any job. The end result of such giving is an achievement so long-term, so far-off in the distance, that it takes the strongest faith to see. And the story of our time is that the source of that faith does not seem to be found in the material mansions we build for ourselves.
When people can't do something, when they can't achieve an objective, it is natural to belittle it, to attempt to refute its importance, in order to save face, and avoid the humiliation of defeat. Our present generation, who like to think ourselves so advanced, so modern, so "successful", we are afraid of the most natural task in the world: to grow up. Because such a chore would test our ability to achieve the most natural objective in the world: to raise children who would become capable of being good parents in their turn.
Keeping the cycle progressing: what other "job" matters more..?
"If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."