I recently heard the story of Lucy on NPR. The story broke my heart so be warned the story that follows is a sad one. Lucy the chimp (1964-1987) was a raised by Maurice K. Temerline, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and professor at the University of Oklahoma and his wife Jane. Lucy was raised as a human. She was taught to eat like a human, look through magazines, and live as a human. She was able to learn sign language and even was caught lying at one point! She learned 140 signs. She became popular and found in magazines and gained some popularity. Her desire to be human was strong. At one point they decided to mate her with a male chimp but she was having no part of that. The doctor treated her as his child and their story is amazing.
At the age of 12 she like many chimps raised in this way became violent and was kept in a cage. In time they had to do something with her and this is where the story gets really sad. They take her to a chimpanzee rehabilitation center in Gambia with a graduate student, Janis Carter. Lucy lived with other chimps and was very upset. She didn’t want to live in this very wild type island. She was being forced to be in nature and she was used to living as a human. Lucy and the chimps there needed help to adjust and Janis stayed for years and spent all of her time trying to help them to adjust. Listening to all this dedicated woman did was amazing.
Lucy just never got it. She signed that she was “Hurt” and she wanted to be with humans. She had no desire to be wild. In time Janis had to leave her. She stayed away for a year and visited again. Lucy was confused when she came back and the photo below shows their final hug goodbye. When Janis came back she found Lucy’s skeleton missing head, hands and feet indicating that perhaps poachers killed her. She would have approached them and been happy and they would have taken advantage of her and killed her.
Look at the photo at the bottom of this blog. It breaks your heart. I am amazed at how ‘human’ like Lucy became and yet at the same time the animal was within her and she was confused and torn. She couldn’t live in both worlds and yet she was drawn to both. Thinking about her struggle and longing for love and companionship and knowing that her human parents had simply left her there and then finally her friend left too. It just breaks your heart.
What’s this got to do with a theological blog? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything. It’s just moving. Lessons that what we do impact others and the power of loneliness and despair abound in this story. What does it mean to be human? How do we relate to God’s other creatures? And the fact that loneliness is a terrible enemy. I see this photo and I see a creature in pain. If only she could have remained with her real chimp family and not been taken by force (as she was done). This created a chain of events that led to her demise. And yet I’m also amazed at how intelligent she was and how she actually could communicate! Amazing. So look at this photo and ponder it a bit. You should be moved. I was.