Saturday, January 24, 2009

10 minutes with Lucy

Somewhere along about 3.18 million years ago a homely but memorable girl apparently passed to her reward and went to meet the Great Hominid in the sky. Then, in 1974 while I was running around Nicaragua stumbling over burial mounds with a Harvard archeologist, Donald Johanson looked up a ravine in Ethiopia on his way back to camp and met the most important girl in his life: Lucy.

Lucy is now visiting the Seattle Science Center and today, after kicking back for the past 35 years or so in Ethiopia, she's making her rock-star tour of the US. Some museums are boycotting her for what seem entirely reasonable and utterly incomprehensible reasons. Fortunately, Seattle decided to give her a look and I got in today when the door opened.

I expected to find Lucy just inside with a sign that said something roughly the equivalent of, "Joe, you been waiting 30 years, this way to Lucy." No go, no sign, they didn't even know I was Joe. What I got instead was a large exhibit on the history of Ethiopia, a place about which I knew little and cared less. Where's Lucy? was the only thing in my head. Ethiopia happened to be the map coordinates, but let's be clear – when Lucy lived there it wasn't called Ethiopia, so why do I care what it's called now. Where the hell's Lucy?

You in the Gold coat, where's Lucy?
I gotta go through the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce exhibition first?
Far out, where is it?

First exhibit: Jews came to Ethiopia and blah blah with exhibits, artifacts, and photos.
Where's Lucy?
Next exhibit: Christians came to Ehtiopia and blah blah with exhibits, artifacts and photos.
Yeah, so where's Lucy?
Next exhibit: Muslims came to Ethiopia and blah blah with exhibits, artifacts and photos.
Next exhibit: Halie Sallasie came to Ethiopia and blah blah with exhibits and photos.
Cool, so we're getting the band back together, where the hell's Lucy?

By this time I was at the head of the First Pack of Lucy Lookers and must have looked desperate because a Gold Coat caught my eye. I raised my hands palm up like, "Where". He points down a hall and says, "Up two ramps – you'll be the first today."

The sign at the ticket booth was clear, "No food, drinks, or photography." Not a word about running. Feet, do your thing.

I blew past Gold Coat ignoring his plea to slow down, up two long ramps where people would later be waiting to get in. Right up to the armed guard where I broke stride and walked into the Lucy exhibit. Up to where she lay – a mandible and six skull bones, along with 40% of her skeleton.

All alone. Me and her. By myself. For 10 minutes I was the only one there and it gave me chills.

I'd seen history. Hell, I've lived through history.

But I'd never seen mankind. Never seen THE antecedent. Never stood that close to both ends of the evolutionary process.

It doesn't matter if you believe in God or not, according to the exhibit the Ethiopians have you covered no matter what your persuasion might be. But whether God did it or evolution did it, standing next to Lucy will convince you that something extraordinary happened in the woodlands of Ethiopia and you and I are the benefactors. I'm pretty sure Lucy didn't have a cell phone but am equally certain that without her, neither would I. Or you. That's the funny thing about evolution - or God - there doesn't seem to be a destination. But it's a hell of a journey.

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