Baby Dropping (or: the land of any child left behind)

I know that this is a column about travel, but you know from being such faithful readers that voyages of the body, the soul, the mind . . . they all qualify. Still, even by that liberal definitional standard, this entry will be a stretch, since this entry is about journeys of a moral kind. It is a topic that came up recently over here in Japan (where my peripatetic feet generally roost) and I hope you agree it’s worth consideration, at least for a paragraph or three.

If you haven’t heard, a “baby drop box” was put into operation May 10 by a Roman Catholic hospital in Kumamoto. It was designed for unwanted infants however it made the front page of newspapers when a father dropped off a preschool-aged child on the service’s first day.

This abandonment aside, Kumamoto’s so-called “konotori no yurikago” (stork cradle) plan has generated both praise and criticism. Is this an example of social engineering noble and visionary, or of a society dissipated and retrograde? Is this a human community committed to the principle of “no child left behind” or, rather, of any child potentially tossed by the wayside?

Collectively, some could argue, we are valuing the child; but is that so at an individual level? Is the drop box only reinforcing drop-out behavior by adults who may have too much adolescent left in them? Maybe the stork cradle is sending the signal that this is a land that tolerates — even nurtures — the idea that any child can be shunned. Let this responsibility be someone else’s burden. Let’s shift the hard work of life elsewhere.

If this is truly the message within the baby drop box, then one can fairly wonder: how is such a society going to ultimately fare?

Hyperbole? Over-the-top melodrama in your bloggy midst? Well, possibly. But in a class I’ve been teaching this term, that is one of the central concerns. A baseline entry-point of inquiry, one might say. In a word: if we are not all on the same page — you know, you along with the clown to the left of you and the joker on the right — then how are any of us ever expected to muster the conviction to take the next step forward?: to obey the stop light dead ahead, or pay for tomorrow’s newspaper at the cash register, or deposit the next paycheck in the bank? If no one is going to play by the same rules or cooperate to the degree that we are supposed to in order to keep this ship afloat, in one piece, then what’s the point? If I can’t trust my neighbor, then there is no surity, and soon very little security. It’s a very short hop, step and jump to societal disintegration.

Just ask residents of New Orleans, circa August 2005.

The whole world has fallen into the pisser and I’d better get mine before anyone else beats me to it.

Is that the world we now exist in? A universe of babies being left behind. A dark, dank, jagged cave where when responsibility becomes too onerous, then “effit, I’m outta heah.”

In another class of mine — where students make presentations and contribute to a course blog on weekly topics — a medical student covered the baby drop in conjunction with the recent (apparent) suicide by a Japanese Cabinet Minister. That story also had received much media play this past week, but trying to connect these two incidents was, I thought, kind of a stretch (even as charitable as I tend to be). Well, at least he didn’t try to tackle the 17 year-old who beheaded his Mom, carried her upper-most orb to an Internet cafe where he spent part of the afternoon, then finally turned himself in at a local police station. His wire-service moment was the quotable: “It didn’t matter who I killed.”

Try telling that to Mom, kid.

Still, the guy (my student, not the psycho) — well, actually, both I suppose, in their own ways — ended up bumping into the question “what is the value of life?” (albeit, with very different answers). To be fair, my guy did an exceptional job of making the connection work (as opposed to the psycho kid, who did such a bang-up job of making the disconnection work).

But, you’ve caught me being flip when, in fact, I wish to project an entirely different emotional coloring. Like my student I’d prefer to be serious. But unlike my student — who adopted a psycho-medical viewpoint — I will offer a sociological stance. Instead of appealing (as my student did) to my contemporaries to respect the sanctity of life — which is, nonetheless, vital — I want to ask others to view our world in the aggregate; to consider it from a macro perspective. Doing so, I say, it is not enough to optimistically spout: “oh, what a shame that the family didn’t want the child, but at least they had a hospital drop box available to them.” I have to argue that it is insufficient to conclude in exasperation: “ah, a(nother) Japanese politician was dirty, got caught with his hand in our pants, and decided to treat himself to the high-visibility, ‘heroic’, ‘honorable’ send-off.”

Nope. I am going to have to go down a different evaluative road; say that it is necessary to look at the causes behind these acts. Let me ask: what is happening inside the socety that leads humans down these behavioral (and im/moral) paths.

Only then can we begin to mend and correct our society.

Unless, of course, I have it wrong. (As is so often true and, therefore, ought not to come as a major surprise to you).

Prompting me to do another thing that ought not to surprise you: take the other side. And say: what if the baby drop really isn’t about any child left behind? What if it is living proof that all life is sacred and that any creative measure will be taken to nurture, support, retrieve, and save every member of our human community? Under such circumstances, then there is nothing but sunshine on the horizon. This is a community pulling together; a society that will ensure that it comes through as one, resolute and strong.

Oh, such a wonderful, forgiving, nurturing world that envelops us!

You think? Well, in this great big world of ours, as Jonny Lang says, anything is possible.

And even if it’s not, as Monty Python was wont to say, it is always best to look on the bright side of life.

(even if — even as — you’re hanging on the cross!)