On the value of not being well adjusted

“The last thing you want to be is a well-adjusted person.” The speaker was Lenore Bierbaum, one of my undergraduate psychology professors. “What you want to be,” she said, “is a person who adjusts well.” Her point was that “well adjusted” is static, like being stuck in a rut, or like death. Life, on the other hand, is dynamic, always changing, growing, developing, requiring adjustment.

I thought of Dr. Bierbaum’s comment yesterday when I read these words by essayist Wendell Berry: “It may be that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Times of adjustment in my life certainly have been tiring, even deeply fatiguing sometimes. They have also been the most creative times I’ve known. A few months after moving to a new place, there is invariably a time when I recognize that my eyes have glazed over with familiarity so that I don’t see as much any longer. It can happen that way with every routine or relationship, and it often does. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” the old adage goes, and by “contempt” here I’m thinking of its meaning as “a lack of respect or reverence for something.”

The psalmist wrote, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Ps. 87:2), the entry into the heavenly city more than all the places where we have grown settled and comfortable, beginnings more than abiding places.

Assembling the pieces of life’s puzzling picture can be like building my prison (or my tomb) if by doing so it leads me to think I know which way to go. And now I recall the words of an old railroad song, “Isn’t it the going and not the getting there.” So I will keep trying to make sense of things, to find the missing piece that makes the whole snap into clarity. But I have the hunch that if I’m blessed, that piece will always remain missing.

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