Last week I took a quick trip up Michigan for the first time since I moved to Kentucky five months ago. I had to close on my house and move the rest of my furniture out, but I had enough time to catch up with a few friends, neighbors, coworkers, and former students. Friday was a whirlwind of a day: I saw many familiar faces, and didn’t have time to talk to any of them as much as I wanted.* As luck would have it, the Yale track team, whom I helped coach last year, had an invitational meet right around the corner from the house that I was moving out of, so I was able to stop by to catch a few races, and to chat it up with a few more old friends.
As that evening drew to close – as I stood in the stands under the evening chill of springtime in Michigan – I just felt…perfect. The relief of selling my house in a time and place where the real estate market has absolutely tanked; the nostalgia of cheering on a bunch of athletes that I really connected with a year ago; the smile and warmth of familiar faces; and the underlying knowledge and confirmation that moving away was absolutely the right decision at the right time: it was all just a little overwhelming. So standing there, somewhere between the girls 4×800 relay and the guys 4×400 relay, somewhere between conversations with some fantastic former co-workers and having my face run through Fat Booth on a random iPhone; somewhere in the midst of all that, I had the sudden urge to yell out, “Soylent Green is people! It’s peeeeooooopllllle!!!!!!”**
See, In 1973, Soylent Green, in a movie of the same name, was portrayed as a futuristic wafer made of high-energy plankton. Compared to other limited sources of food and energy, Soylent Green was the best thing available. It was in such high demand, in fact, that many a food riot broke out over the life-sustaining substance. The clincher came, however, when the main character found out that any such plankton had long since been eradicated from the waters of the earth, and that the wafers were actually made from the bodies of deceased humans.
I know. Gross, right?
And yet, in that moment on the bleachers where I nearly shouted my insanity to 16 area high school track teams, it all made perfect sense. Soylent Green is people. In my Holden Caulfield-esqe epiphany, I was reminded that people matter most. Life is about people: investing in them, knowing them, loving them, serving them, receiving from them. If Soylent Green, the very sustenance that was fueling life in a dark and morbid futuristic world, was made from people, then people are indeed my Soylent Green.
Through relationships with other people I am able to find grace, give of myself, know and experience God, and fully become everything that I was created to be. Apart from other people, my life and my purpose would be fragmented and incomplete. We were never meant to exist in a vacuum, serving only our own purposes. And while God may be the creator and sustainer of all life, it is only through other people that we are able to experience that life to the fullest. Knowing, loving, and glorifying God is inextricably linked with knowing, loving, and serving other people. Jesus had it right:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So I was happy. Because I remembered how much I love people. And how much it means to me when they love me right back.
You are my high-energy plankton. You are my Soylent Green.
* That’s a bold-faced lie. There were plenty of catch-up conversations that were the perfect length, and others, still, that I wished were shorter. (Too many people to see, too little time.) But you get the sentiment, right?
** Fortunately for all those around me, I was able to suppress this urge enough so that it only came out sounding like a odd little hiccup accompanied by a smirk. Strange bodily functions are much easier for people to cope with than flat-out craziness.