David Marenger Not Only Survived, He Thrived
There are lots of kids who love running around and catching insects in jars, but it’s different for young Pete Carlton. Pete has cancer, and according to the doctors, it’s not going to get better. Instead of giving up hope, though, Pete has a dream of catching the rare Amazonian blue morpho butterfly. With the help of his mother, and a famous entomologist, Pete sets out on a transformative journey that touches everyone around him. This is the premise of the Canadian film The Blue Butterfly, and the best part is, it’s based on a true story.
The real life Pete Carlton is one David Marenger, also once a young Canadian boy given 24 months to live before likely succumbing to brain cancer. David was only six years old. Instead of writing to a famous entomologist to get to the Amazon like Pete, however, it was the Children’s Wish Foundation that heard of his love of butterflies, and his deep-rooted desire to seek the vibrant blue morpho. The foundation granted him that trip to Mexico, along with a Montreal entomologist, George Brossard. The young boy was so sickly that, much like Pete, he had to be carried by his entomologist friend through his trip.
The efforts were not in vain, however. Something changed in that jungle, something truly miraculous. After a long journey, David managed to find the blue butterfly. He went home, and the doctors found that the cancer in his head was shrinking instead of growing. David went into remission, and astonished those doctors by continuing to get better.
Decades later, David stood in the jungle again during the filming of The Blue Butterfly, a rare morpho in his hand. This time, though, he was standing, unaided, healthy, happy, 30 years old.
Do miracles exist?
Hope, belief and perseverance are what David counts as the cures to his ‘terminal’ disease. Like the real-life protagonist, The Blue Butterfly hero, Pete, chases the butterfly through the jungle, seeking hope and meaning behind what anyone would consider a tragic occurrence. Why is he the one who has cancer? Why does this have to hurt his mom? Why can’t he be like other kids? The Blue Butterfly’s beautiful juxtaposition of mysticism and scientific study doesn’t answer all the questions explicitly, but instead demonstrates the power of love and belief.
We’re all looking for answers, aren’t we? However, as demonstrated by Pete, sometimes we don’t need all the answers. Sometimes, all we need is a miracle in the form of hope.
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The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell Now More Relevant Than Ever
Making sense of our consciousness can be difficult, and in our materialist, western world we try endlessly to objectify that experience. But over the course of the past century, there have been a number of intermediaries reminding us to reconnect with elements of the spiritual journey.
Names like Alan Watts, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Deepak Chopra have sparked a renaissance of interest in the nature of consciousness, meditation, and mindfulness. They remind us of stories and lessons learned over the course of our history, and within these, we find recurring themes of transcendent truth.
But there is one liaison between old world and new, who bridged these philosophies and connected the ancient esotericism of the east to the pragmatism of the scientific west, through archetypes and allegory.
Joseph Campbell defined this thirst for truth over a lifetime by examining artists, psychologists, writers, and philosophers. He referred to the lessons in their mythos as the Masks of God, and the protagonists within those stories as the Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Campbell consumed as much of their wisdom as possible, voraciously reading nine hours a day for years at a time. He absorbed the work of great western minds like Carl Jung, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and Sinclair Lewis. Through these lessons he connected the dots of contemporary consciousness with the timeless teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, Greek mythology and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
In those years of study, he found lessons that applied to man and society at large – overarching narratives that struck a universal chord, particularly the sense that at some point in our lives, we find there is a call unanswered, a void in the spirit that must be fulfilled.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls. The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
– Joseph Campbell
The Hero’s Journey
Campbell said you can never be at peace with yourself if you do not answer that call. The call to adventure that forces the hero to remove himself from the ordinary world and face whatever it is that threatens his safety, comfort, and way of life.
At first, the call is refused when fears and second thoughts arise, or the comforts of home seem too difficult to abandon. But eventually, the hero finds a mentor who pushes them and provides the tools needed to confront their tribulation.
When one considers the “Hero’s Journey,” Luke Skywalker, Arjuna, or even Hamlet could fit the role, but these stereotypes are meant to convey a general truth about finding the fulfillment we all seek. The personal ordeals that confront us can be difficult to face, causing us to relinquish a part of ourselves and take solace in a place that feels safe, while we remain oblivious to what could be learned by challenging those fears.
For some it may be a vice; an addiction that keeps us trapped in some behavior or lifestyle. Campbell looked to the Tibetan Book of the Dead to confront this type of ordeal, learning that the scripture taught one to strive for the opposing virtue of whatever your vice may be; to overcome what he called the “inmost cave.” By cultivating the antithesis of your vice, you will find the self-actualization that defines your being.
This sentiment has been echoed many times over the ages, and Campbell summed it up when he said, “Gods suppressed become devils, and often it is these devils whom we first encounter when we turn inward.”
Watch a trailer for Finding Joe, the critically acclaimed, inspirational documentary based on the work of Joseph Campbell: