Be Patient With Yourself

by Fred

When we have trouble forgetting a sad memory or even have trouble remembering an important one, we must be patient with ourselves. One thing that helps us to be patient is to reflect on a certain neurological function that I went through again this week– long-term potentiation.

I had decided to change up my breakfast diet. I like the same thing every day, but now and then I change up a bit. As a younger man, I began my day with a coffee cup full of plain Shredded Wheat. No milk. No sugar. I was driving semis then, and I could work and have breakfast whenever I was hungry. Very convenient.

In my memory, the whole grain flavor was rich with layers and layers of taste and subtlety that made my taste buds jump. So, when I decided to change from yogurt and Fiber One to plain Shredded Wheat, I became excited at the memory of how those little biscuits tasted.

What a disappointment when I bit into one after nearly twenty years. It tasted like paper. Bland, dry, nothing. Even a little unpleasant. Well, I had already bought the box, and I knew the nutrition wouldn’t kill me, so I ate the entire serving, dry as it was. Washed it down with coffee and got on with my day. Next day I poured a mug full of Shredded Wheat and crunched it down. Not bad. Still nothing wonderful, but not as tasteless as the first day.

It was on the fourth day that I experienced that return of flavor. The first crunch released an “ah-ha!” that I remembered so well. The taste was back and I enjoyed every tiny bit of it.

This is the function of long-term potentiation of neurons. My taste receptors had been potentiated twenty years ago to the deeply-layered but subtle flavor of Shredded Wheat. The intervening years had allowed the conscious recall to fade into fantasy. However, the long-term potentiation had remained physically in the synapses and the axons of my taste receptors. It took four days for the pathway to be re-routed to my conscious mind, but there it was at last.

This is why I still remember the slope-intercept form from high school algebra after thirty years. It is also why I can’t let go of the powerful memories of my first wife. It’s a sad and beautiful thing. Frankly, I don’t want to forget the good things about her. And the negative things can be allowed to fade. They never go away, either. So what?

Back in April and May of this year, I was writing about Johnny Rambo’s outburst at the end of First Blood. “Nothing is over!” he screamed. “You don’t just turn it off.” One of those updates included the good news about the tragic situation he was in. The Rambo movie series brings out the good news slowly, over a life time. The message is patience. Rambo had most of the gifts he needed to overcome his sadness: loyalty, courage, endurance.

The thing he still had to learn was patience. Be patient with yourself.

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