Sheila's Brilliant Banana Bread

 

As the seasons are coming into full transition and the green escapes the leaves outside, I’m beginning to think a lot about the way we choose to live our days. 3 years ago today I sat in a cozy classroom full of Danish and Swedish students, learning about the brain, how it processes the world around us and functions, truly, like a miracle machine from heaven. This was back when I was a student, studying psychology and neuroscience. Though I don’t read research papers anymore I still think a lot about the brain, because it sits at the root of everything we experience. This specific lecture, three years back, left an impression on me. This is what I remember.

Our neurons in our brains fire off in certain patterns for certain things, activating different synapses (connections between neurons) in a multifaceted fashion. When we experience anything our synapses fire off in a specific pattern, and each time we remember that experience they fire again in the same pattern, more or less. What’s important is the “more or less” part. Of course, we don’t remember every detail of our lives, and resultantly our neural synapses fire differently whenever we recall a memory. Perhaps we forget about the fact that we ate a croissant that morning, or that there was an ambulance outside the front door when your cousin Sheila arrived for her yearly visit. All we remember is that Sheila brought banana bread, we watched movies and made homemade ice cream together. Sheila laughed at us as we diluted our cookies & cream with heartbroken tears, and soon the bellow of her smile and bits of banana bread flying out of her mouth transformed our cry into a cackle. That’s what got us over the break up.

When we recall a memory, naturally we forget a few details or replace them with the wrong ones (were we the ones that made the banana bread?). When this occurs the pattern changes, and anything from the first pattern made upon experiencing that memory that doesn’t match the new pattern is shed away. When we recall Sheila and the banana bread, leaving out one detail or mistaking one for another, that becomes the new neural pattern we retrace, the new memory, the image we conjure when we think back to then.

I remember sitting in that classroom and jotting in my notebook (once full of research ideas, now full script concepts and creative drafts) the words “GOLDEN HUES”. I thought, maybe this is why we remember things in golden hues. Maybe this is why it feels so magical looking back on our lives, careers, and selves. The people and places, progressions and accomplishments, growth and serendipity of each moment that guided us to where we are now. Maybe that’s how hardship teaches us important lessons in due time. Perhaps the lessons are there from the minute we encounter adversity, face discomfort, or encounter something unexpected, but it takes a bit of neural shedding to see the value in pitfalls clearly.

There are a lot of conclusions that can be drawn from silly observations made in life like neuropsychological lectures in Sweden. Another one I concluded was that Swedish pastries are far superior to American pastries, as I shoved a third chocolate ball into my mouth. The most important thing I recall from all of this, though, is that we don’t really remember much. Usually, we only remember the important things.

I think remembering that we don’t remember much is a useful observation to hold in the back of our heads. I think it helps us see, right now, what is worth noticing the most. The important things like how nice it feels to sit in a coffee shop and sip on a latte. How lucky we are to snuggle up in a warm bed underneath a secure roof. How hilarious our friend is and how much we love them. How you sounded on that business call, whether or not you look as fashionable as the rest of the crowd, the 5 minutes taken from your day by a late taxi or bad traffic — all those little thoughts and inconveniences will inevitably be shed away by the miracle machines housed in our heads.

We might as well shed them off now, and enjoy the present as warmly as we recall the past.