Thoughts about Lucy in the Sky

On the first day of class, I will hand out a syllabus and do my normal introduction to my class. This term just began, and I did my normal pedagogical shtick. Then just before starting my 20th century history class, I draw on the board my traditional vertical line with two lines forming a triangle. Then I asked knowingly, "What is that?" Most students laughed. I reminded them that I also teach art history; therefore, I am obviously artistic. They begin to ponder. The best that they could do is to say that it looked like a pennant. Then I laughed and answered my own question with, "It is your brain."

Now, that I had their attention. I hummed the old Beatles' song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." I then told them that was what their brain looked like at birth...something similar to the butterfly net that I drew on the board. A bright student there thought I didn't realize something. She said that I had only a couple threads in her brain. I responded that she was correct, and that is why much that we take into our infant brain passes right through our head...never stopping. There needed to be more threads.

Then I said that is what education was all about weaving more and more threads onto the butterfly net of our brain. We are first educated by our parents and family. Then off we go to school. They happen to be at DeVry University learning a lot about technology, computers, programming, etc. All those years between birth and college have been filled by adding threads to their nets. The more threads were woven into their butterfly nets the more interrelatedness in this history class they would see and understand. It is critical that we have more and more threads in all studies whether in the liberal arts or in the sciences. It is essential that they learn this important lesson.

Had I simply stopped my little discourse, they would have all smiled and quickly forgotten their butterfly net brain. So I merely continued by saying that Lucy O'Donnell (her married name was Vodden) died on September 22, 2009 after a bout with acute inflammatory autoimmune disorder commonly known as lupus. The hollow expression in the class' faces meant that they hadn't read or heard about Lucy's death nor did they know who she was. This is an older picture of Lucy Vodden when she was well. Lucy was 46-years old when she died.

Then I told them a true story. One day when Lucy was in kindergarten, she was painting on a double-easel and Julian Lennon (John Lennon's son) was painting on the other side of the easel. Lucy, as it turned out was Julian's subject of his painting. When he went home that evening, he gave his father this picture, and said that it was "Lucy-in the sky with diamonds."

It wasn't long after that gift to his father that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

Four decades passed, and Lucy dies of lupus. It is sad about Lucy. I know firsthand what suffering from lupus is like; my mother died of it in her early 50s looking like she was 90-years old.

Now, the class had more educational threads in their mental butterfly nets. However, my lecture was over. Then I asked the second question, "What other Lucy died that you know...a Lucy that died 3.2 million years ago? Again, their faces were drawn into a cosmic question mark. Then came the threading of some more threads into their mental butterfly nets. On November 24, 1974, seven years after the release of the song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", a group of seven French and four American anthropologists were at Hadar, which is in the Awash Valley of the Afar Depression in Ethiopia looking for bones. Two of the Americans were looking for some ancient bones in a small gully that had already been checked without finding anything.

However, something told Donald Johanson and Tom Gray to look again. Neither saw any bones and were about ready to return to camp when Johanson noticed a fossil bone. Then like magic they found more and more bones of this female hominid: parts of the jaw, ribs, vertebrae, thighbone, and skull. They returned to camp and announce their great find...what turned out to be at that time the oldest hominid ever discovered. Later that day, the rest of the expedition marked the site so that they could thoroughly look for any other bones of this hominid.

That night around their camp fire, they celebrated this 3.2 million year old find talking about its importance to understanding human evolution. Someone, in the midst of the celebration, started to play The Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" over and over again. Then, amid their singing the song, they all agreed to call their find, Lucy.

Over the next several weeks, they continued to search for more remains. What they came up with was about 40% of a hominid, which was several hundred pieces of fossilized bone of Lucy, whose official name is AL 288-1 and in Amharic, Lucy is called dinqineš, which means "you are beautiful or wonderful."

By this time in my little lecture, all the minds of the students were attentive and listening. I drew more threads to the butterfly net on the board. Then I said, "What I want to help you do is to add threads to your butterfly net so that when something is heard, read, or seen, it won't pass through your net. I want your butterfly net to trap any idea that goes into your head and be any to make relationship with other seemingly unrelated facts.

Since this was a 20th century history class, I told them about going to school in Scotland for a year of post-graduate study. I had to sign-up for the British National Health program. I had already written an article about what I learned then...40-years ago that many Americans still need to know. The Luddites are Back

Slowly, we weave threads. This is a leap ahead of the idea of six degrees of separation or the human web. This is about six degrees of really knowing or the human mental-web called the butterfly net.

Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties,
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstyle,
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

photo of lucy