I graduated from Park Hi in Cottage Grove Minnesota in 1973. A vibrant state of the art high school nestled in a growing and expanding neighborhood of the late 50’s called Thompson Grove. It was the brainchild of Orrin Thompson who a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright who wanted to create an affordable neighborhood on the prairies of Minnesota in response to nationwide housing shortages for the new baby boomer generation being born that followed the end of WWII. Cottage Grove (cabbage grove to islanders) 😊 it was a model for the nation for the newly created idea of “suburbia “. Successful it spread nationwide faster than a fire in California. Our high school was a model for the times in a model neighborhood; visualize the movie Pleasantville and listen to the song by Pete Seeger “Little boxes” which was his response to Orrin Thompson’s creation in Cottage Grove. (https://youtu.be/XUwUp-D_VV0)
Our school was built amidst the little boxes of the newly created suburbia and students from Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Grey Cloud Island, Denmark Township, Newport and Woodbury all converged to the new High School built in 1965. State of the art school, it had computer Fortran entry data (punch card classes), modular scheduling, and some groovy intern teachers. The area was mostly middle-class white suburban and rural families, lean on diversity but our sports team was monikered the Park Hi Indians (which later changed to the Wolf pack). In 1973 life was good in Cottage Grove, the Vietnam war was winding down, the draft/lottery had ended, jobs were plentiful, the social vibe was all about peace and love. Pleasantville was real. The world was our oyster.
I remember as a senior in high school reading the book “1984” by George Orwell (circa 1949). It was a frightening vision of a country that had degenerated to a rule by “Big Brother” who was the cult like personality leader of “The Party “who was in political control. Big Brother was depicted as totalitarian ruler who comes into everyone’s homes daily on huge computer screens dictating social reform with government rule and he had absolute power. Although convivial in appearance as part of the republic he was a ruthless dictator and a puppet voice for “The Party” who actually pulled all the strings.
This was written as fiction 70 years ago.
That same year a movie was released called Soylent Green and my girlfriend (my wife now) and I watched it at the Cottage View Drive-in theater that was built the same year as the high school in our uniquely created little suburbia of the future that even had an indoor neighborhood mall. The drive in had a double feature, Soylent Green and The Exorcist. Soylent Green left a deep impression on me and is the reason for this writing.
The movie was based on book penned in 1966 by Harry Harrison; released into a movie with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in 1973. The movie was set in 2022 New York City. The cumulative effects of overpopulation, pollution and climate catastrophe due to Greenhouse gases (Global warming) had caused severe worldwide shortages of food, water and housing. In the plot there is 40 million people in New York City alone, only the city’s elite can afford spacious apartments, clean water and natural food, and even then, at horrendously high prices. The middle class was gone, there was now only the haves, or the have-nots and the haves controlled the food supply. We find out later the food supply is made from dead bodies…called Soylent Green.
In 1973 the population of New York City was about 7.5 million, today almost 50 years later we are at less than 8.5 million. The move to the suburbs worked, good job Orrin Thompson, quite the visionary you were and continue to be as NYC and other major cities populations decrease each year. Gated communities and massive baby boomer retiree high rises/ villages are growing faster than Kudzu in July causing massive urban emigration and building boom to the burbs. Overcrowding never became the portent of devastation it was touted as becoming, no one envisioned massive suburbs. Climate change on the other hand has reached devastating proportions in our country and across the world.
We saw it coming 70 years ago.
Rising sea levels, melting polar caps, and the hottest temperatures every recorded are breaking records across the world. February of this year in 2020, both Greenland and Antarctica broke record for highest temperatures ever recorded. 2019 Angola saw its hottest temperature ever measured for any month in February. Australia shattered its record for the hottest summer ever with fires still burning out of control propelling its national average temperature to a new all-time high. Belgium broke its record at 105°F on July 25. France saw its hottest June day on June 28 as the temperature rose 111.7°F. Germany broke its record of 106.7°F on July 25. Kenya saw its highest April temperature on April 20 which hit 106.9 F. The Netherlands broke its record on July 25 at 104.7°F. Poland and Germany each set a new respective June temperature record. Russia set a May temperature record near Siberia 91.22ºF on May 13. Vietnam broke its record for hottest May temperature on May 20 at 109.4ºF. To name a few.
If this keeps up for two more years with blatant ignorance of real data, the movie Soylent Green may now be a harbinger of things to come rather than mere Hollywood fiction. With severe climate change we may to come to a time when food and clean water are in short supply for the masses unilaterally. I hope not, I believe we can be much better stewards of our children’s planet than that. We can help to alleviate the stress our dear Mother Earths is experiencing. She may be having her own growing pains and will cycle as she continues to cool down internally over the eons, but ignorance, apathy, greed and stupidity of external factors that we can control only makes it worse.
In the movie Edgar R. Robinson is an old man who is tired of living in poverty under strict government control. Perpetual apathy, no relief from the continual heat, lack of real food and overcrowding he finds he has no hope, he sees no light at the end of the tunnel. When he finds out that his main diet is made from dead people his loses the last shred of will to survive. The government does although provide an option to “seniors” who are tired of the battle to exist and can go to the “Home Clinic “a government run assisted suicide facility. They sign up on their own free will and are brought in to a one-person in-the-round movie theater watching glorious 3-D movies of our wonderful planet with a dinner given of their favorite meal with “ real food ” and of course given a tall glass of special Kool-Aid to drink and they drift off happily… 20 minutes later succumbing to the potion that was delivered. Their body is then is recycled into Soylent Green.
Fictional yes, but it was that scene left an indelible impression on me. I endorsed his decision had I been face with it, and admired the ease and beauty of which it was accomplished, as he told Charleston Heston, I’m going home. Suicide sometimes may appear as the only viable option. From the towers of 911, from abuse/torture at being held captive, from continual sexual abuse at home or madmen, mental illness, depression, bullying by society itself.
The decision to take one’s own life is one made to relieve pain when there is no hope. Let us not judge this very difficult decision to end one’s life but honor their courage to make such a lethal decision. Let us avoid charging their legacy with a crime and adding a penumbra of shame to their life and to that of their family. People die by accident, by disease, natural disasters, natural causes, nefarious intent, pathological evil, war, greed, revenge, politics, anger, self-defense, mental illness, apathy and suicide. Victims of suicide do not commit a crime…they decide to end their pain.
Our onus is to not judge those who have made the decision to take their own life or ascribe personal failure or guilt on our part or theirs. It is difficult at best to know of the inner turmoil people may carry; most often it is disguised very well. We need to decriminalize their legacy and promote avenues of hope for the hopeless. Suicide is not a sin, it is not a crime, it is a symptom of social despair, it is an act of desperation fueled by apathy and ignorance. Suicide rates increase 2% every year in our country. Now in epidemic proportions in rural America, the armed services and our law enforcement, suicide is now considered a national public health crisis in the United States. So much in fact that the U.S. life expectancy data has been trending down for the past three years from so many cases of suicide and overdose. Global suicides rates are amazingly down 30% since 2000. U.S. suicide rates are up 33 % since 2000. This is not hyperbole; we are in a national crisis.
We do not need government suicide clinics, we need to heighten our awareness of social discontent, and reduce the systemic apathy in our country. To reduce the risk of suicide we need to reduce the desperation wherever we see it and encourage other options. To reduce its stigma of shame we need to stop the blame.
Suicide is a decision not made lightly but one usually made in the dark. Spread the light; you can do your part to reduce the risk; shine by example. We are our brother’s keeper. Be an encourager, an influencer, a listener, a mentor, a teacher, a guide, a motivator, a forgiver, a helper, a role model, a benefactor, seed planter, healer and friend. It’s in our nature, that spark of divinity that makes us human that is in every one of us. Find it, nurture it, use it. Let’s take back the night.
Science Fiction has become reality. People old and young choosing to end their lives. Suicide rates in our country are at epidemic proportions that we have not ever seen before. Real data happening now. U.S. Public mass shootings in 2019 was the highest year ever recorded with 41 incidents, 211 fatalities. Real data, happening now. Our Planet currently is melting at rates faster than we have ever seen in recorded history. This is real data happening now. If this continues unabated, life as we know it will never be the same and I shudder for my grandchildren.
If we collectively do nothing, like in the make-believe world of Fantasia in the movie The Never-Ending Story, the “nothing” will end our world. The nothing is our apathy and where desperation thrives. We are killing ourselves and our planet at unheard of rates. BE DISCONTENT, makes ripples, take the risk to resist; the power of one can make a difference; we are in desperate times. Be the difference; take the risk to be you, nurture kindness; nurture your neighbor, become an influencer of grace; Be here now; Shift happens. Give a shift.