Bells went off in my head when I read Dr. Arlene Taylor’s devotional, “Magic Mirror Neurons.”* In it she explains how neurons in the cerebral cortex “fire” (as in the facilitation of learning a skill)—whether we complete actions/practice in real time or in the “mind’s eye.” That’s why, Dr. Taylor explains, the neurons are sometimes referred to as “magic mirror neurons.”
Dr. Taylor’s word picture solved for me a personal mystery surrounding a phenomenon I’d experienced during a very painful season of life. Soon after my mother's passing (while I was undergoing a chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer), I resolved to help put on a musical Mother's Day program at the assisted living facility that had been such a blessing to her. However, my body's potentially lethal reaction to chemo, plunged me into a near non-existent white blood cell count. My physician checked me into an ICU unit in a nearby hospital...to die, she later shared.
In the ICU everything that could go wrong with my body did go wrong. Due to strong antibiotic and pain medications, as well as intense pain at every level (including emotional), I couldn't even think straight. Yet I was resolved to play my hammered dulcimer on Mother's Day at Vintage Gardens even if it were the last thing I ever did. Putting pride aside, I determined I’d risk playing although I’d have no prior opportunity to practice dulcimer—either alone or with fellow performers whom I’d previously invited to participate. I simply wanted to do something affirming and nurturing, on Mother’s behalf, for the residents and caregivers living and working in her last earthly “home.”
When I told my doctor my performance plan during her rounds one morning, she smiled, checked the overhead IV bags, and patted my icy hands. “Carolyn, I know you want to honor your mother,” she said kindly. “But first you need to become well enough to stand and walk by yourself before you can think about going anywhere or doing anything.”
She was right, of course. My concerned husband agreed with her. Yet they didn’t change my mind. Unable to focus my eyes enough to read the print in my little Bible without becoming nauseous, I instead concentrated on silently reciting as much of a Bible passage as I could: Lamentations 3:21-23. At first I remembered just bits and pieces of the passage: “This I recall to my mind...it is of the Lord's mercies...we are not consumed.... His compassions...are new every morning.” Eventually it all came back.
After spending spots of time in Scripture recall each day, I'd next visualize myself standing before my dulcimer, the little dulcimer hammers in my hands. For a week, lying in that bed—except when nurses helped me sit, stand, and walk to the bathroom—I "practiced” the song I’d chosen to exemplify my mother’s legacy to me: “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life.” At the same time, I was tempted to suspect that the truest benefit from these mental exercises might simply the diversion it afforded me from such intense physical and emotional pain.
After nine days in ICU, my doctor—even to her own surprise—deemed me improved enough to go home. A few days later, on Mother’s Day, my still-concerned husband loaded my hammered dulcimer and me into the car and drove us to Vintage Gardens. Performer-friends waiting there expressed joy at seeing me again. Yet their quickly lowered eyes betrayed shock over my pale, emaciated appearance. Needing to sit down frequently, I helped as I could with the program as it began.
Suddenly it was time for...“mother’s song.” Too exhausted for stage fright, I adjusted the wig on my bald head, temporarily slipped the antibacterial mask from my nose, stood to my feet, and picked up the dulcimer hammers. The guitarist played the lead-in to “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life.” Then my hammers came down on the strings. To my astonishment and joy, they came down with precision, strength, and unprecedented speed. The last harp-light chord was still hanging in the air when the audience erupted in enthusiastic applause.
Neither the other musicians nor I understood, especially under the circumstances, why my performance that day went so flawlessly. But I understand now—since I learned about “Magic Mirror Neurons.”
Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made!
Carolyn Sutton, working from home in Alabama, is incoming editor of the General Conference of SDAs Women’s Ministries annual devotional books. The proceeds of these books have provided, to date, almost 2,000 educational scholarships to young women in 119 countries around the world.
Department of Women’s Ministries
Devotional Book Project
General Conference of SDAs
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring MD 20904-6600 USA
*Along with several other of Carolyn's devotionals, watch for Dr. Taylor’s “Magic Mirror Neurons” in an upcoming GC WM devotional book.