Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fireworks in the Brain

The 4th of July came early this year. First, there was a week of granddaughter Zadie out in the world lighting up everyone she passed like a Roman candle. The sparklers of her smile effortlessly lit up the mirror neurons in anyone who had the good sense to look at her and pay attention. No fireworks in the sky, but inside the observers, brain cells were celebrating the Declaration of Interdependence, everyone connected and lit up by Zadie’s smile and laugh.

I think I’ve mentioned mirror neurons before, those messengers of empathy and compassion that populate the frontal lobes and other neighborhoods in the brain and make us smile when the baby does—and vice-versa—and make us tear-up when a speaker’s voice cracks. The discovery came when scientists observed the same reaction in the brain of monkeys watching someone pick up a piece of food and actually picking up a piece of food themselves. Though scientists are bickering about enough experimentation to justify the science of it all, we don’t need science to tell us how infectious tears and laughter are.

As you might expect, a wedding is an occasion when mirror neurons go on alert and work overtime. And so it was at the ceremony of my nephew Ian and his bride Madeleine, starting with her choking up while reciting vows. A flash of white handkerchiefs could be seen in the congregation faster than you could say “mirror neuron.” And again at the reception when Madeleine’s Dad told a beautiful story about all the good years he had had with his daughter, most especially reading her stories at night. From Mother Goose rhymes to The Three Billy Goats Gruff to Little House on the Prairie to Dicken’s Great Expectations, they moved through the years deeply ensconced in the land of imagination together. You could feel him reliving those magic moments in front of us all and when his voice started to crack, the handkerchiefs flashed again, men and women, young and old, bride’s side and groom’s side, alike. It was like the finale of the 4th of July.

He saved the day, as people often do, with just the right moment for humor, telling how after Dicken’s, he crossed some line to a long story of soldiers in the American Revolution slogging through the backwaters of Maine for chapter after endless chapter. He knew he has lost her after that, but by then, it was time for her to venture out and begin the journey to replace father with husband. Meanwhile, the laughter leavened the tears and now it was time to cut the cake and dance. We did and a fine time was had by all. 

P.S. My daughter Talia caught the bouquet! Eligible bachelors, give her a call.

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