Kitzhaber stung by butterfly

On February 18, 2015, Dr. John Kitzhaber, former governor of Oregon, fell from a cliff 100,000 feet above the floor of the Willamette Valley. Though he was climbing with others, he fell alone. His legacy, found near the capitol in Salem, did not survive.

Many focus on the last moments of his climb, and wonder how an avid outdoorsman could succumb to such a fate.  An autopsy has shown, like many men of his age and “lone-wolfness,” Kitzhaber suffered a malfunction linked to the “Y” chromosome, leaving him vulnerable to a sting by the blind butterfly, Femme Fatale.

Femme Fatale has evolved attributes that attract the susceptible, usually a man with strength and resources who can contribute to her wing span and survival through summer storms. Attached securely to the back of his neck, the butterfly has access to neurons between brain, heart and testes.

There is evidence Kitzhaber may have been stung at least once before by a similar species, rendering him even more susceptible.

Those not exposed to butterfly venom will not grasp the reality-distorting vertigo it induces. Laws of physics seem suspended. Solid walls, inviolable boundaries, the very ground and certainly the mountain path traversed by the former governor, are as if painted on soft curtains that shift and billow in ever changing breezes churned by the butterfly’s softly pulsing wings.

From the outside, it’s as if the sufferer has lost touch with “what’s real” and is blind to appearance, context or consequences. From the inside, it’s as if “what’s real” is just out of reach, pushed farther and farther away by toxins of need, greed and illusion.

Inducing a state of false symbiosis, Femme Fatale attaches her goals to those of the victim, and values are twisted to appear mutual. The result is an exceedingly convincing illusion that the path towards her desires is a path shared and will bring fabulous, if intangible, reward.

The blind butterfly knows only that resources she needs to keep flying are available. Flying is her only goal. Often a butterfly will leave a trail of the broken until the day she loses her shimmer and is seen as another creature altogether.

Ultimately, that’s the tragedy. Right to the point where she takes wing again, those stung by Femme Fatale feel a wondrous future waits just around the next bend in the path. It may be a different path and a different future than they envisioned before the toxins took hold, but it becomes the only one they believe in.

It’s common for them to exclaim, as footing is lost in the loose dirt of illusion, “I love her!” just as the butterfly releases her grip and lets them fall to their fate, while she flies to embrace another.

Convenient fictions

I’ve come to believe that all of us are often wrong about why we believe what we believe. We rarely go through any sort of analysis of how we came to our conclusions.

For the most part, we bring our history to an experience, slap a convenient pattern on it that pretends to be an explanation, and leave it at that.

This is certainly true of writing. But in writing, at least the kind I do, I get to admit that I am creating fiction. My point is that we all do this all the time. We create fictions of what is happening almost as soon as it happens. Then this fiction is regarded as a fact that influences future impressions.

Which build and influence future impressions that build and influence future … yadda yadda.

Rather than thinking about it, the “truth” (if such a thing exists out of context) emerges over time as our impressions sift themselves, the more valuable (but no more “correct) rising to the top. These impressions tend to reenforce themselves.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s a necessary part of surviving in this world, this wondrous ability to create and believe in patterns we create to explain; cause and effect, if you will.

Man used fire long before he understood how oxygen and carbon release heat when combined. Eons ago, his explanation worked well enough that he had fire when he needed it. The fact that he was entirely wrong about the causes of combustion didn’t matter.

That ability to create patterns to guide our behavior extends not just to fire. It helps us survive social situations as well. We avoid angry drunks spilling out of the bar when we don’t want to fight, and duck the lady at church who wants to talk about her grandkids for an hour when we have a pie burning in the oven at home.

But occasionally our patterns hinder us. If we were badly victimized, we will tend to  perceive victimhood; angry people find things to be angry about, fixers find things to fix, preeners are disappointed when adulation isn’t forthcoming, etc.

I’ve found this especially true the more attached we are to issues of relationship, politics, values. I’m not talking about Ford versus Chevy.

It’s how our brains are wired. I won’t go into the science. It doesn’t matter in this discussion. What’s important is to acknowledge that it happens, that we are often more “right” the longer we take to form an opinion or take action, that we are on safest ground when generous toward those with whom we disagree, and leave our minds open.

It’s hard work. But so are a lot things.