Bafflement Can Be a Blessing

My partner and I take breaks throughout each day to walk the neighborhood and, several times per week, we’ll reminisce on how far we’ve come together. In the hours leading up to our second date, I was laid off from my low-wage job and he experienced a seizure. We could have easily written one another off as too burdensome and moved on.

Yet, we had already fallen for one another, so we spent the evening sitting together on his sticky pleather couch simply being present for one another. Few words were exchanged, but the unspoken sentiment was impregnable: I’m here for you.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Henry David Thoreau would advise, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” However, as we are fast approaching the ten-year mark, I can’t help but look back on our journey with admiration. We chose to build a life together and quickly we recognized the long road ahead. So, we got to work laying the bricks.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry, Our Real Work

Following these discussions, I can’t help but think of Wendell Berry’s poem, Our Real Work. It feels as if my partner and I have faced more adversity than most. We have often felt as if “we no longer know what to do” and “we no longer know which way to go”. Yet, looking back with anger and regret has never been an option. Instead, together, we seek out solutions.

We quickly discovered that you can’t be married to old ideas nor old ways of solving problems and expect your future to be any different than your past and present. So, like the impeded river, we have discovered alternate paths. Despite, or perhaps due to, the obstructions we have found reasons to sing. Though, I’ll leave the singing to my partner, for obvious reasons.

The Impeded Stream

Over the last decade, I have worked relentlessly to build a career to support our household, increasing my income fourfold. In that same time, my partner has become his own greatest advocate, resulting in a permanent resolution of his epilepsy and admittance to medical school, despite losing the part of his brain responsible for learning and memory. These challenges were stacked on topic of chronic illness affecting us both due to, unknown until recently, invisible neurotoxins in our home.

When meeting up with friends and family, I like to ask them to tell me something new they have learned recently. I’m always browsing newsletters, blog posts, and the latest research articles on a wide variety of topics. I always have something interesting or useful to share. Most, however, stopped learning the moment they exited their formal education. Many fail to see that our day-to-days lives are filled with opportunities to practice critical and creative thinking. They fail to recognize that our challenges present a chance to level up in life.

Just because someone is aging, that doesn’t mean they are growing.

A Growth Mindset

With age, I am realizing that personal growth is a choice. And, with time, I have noticed that it’s not a popular one.

Psychologist Carol Dweck’s research suggests that, “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset”. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset believe such talents are an innate gift and not easily changed.

When I first started dating my partner, I received all kinds of criticisms. Why on earth would I choose to be with someone who is disabled, unemployed, with little material offering? Along with his overwhelming kindness, my answer would be his commitment to continual learning, improvement, and growth. I knew from the start that he would never allow me to stagnate. And I knew that he was bound to accomplish great things once he found his footing.

We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.


While the last ten years have been filled with my fair share of suffering, I recognize now that the challenges presented us the opportunity to “come to our real work” and “begin our real journey”. At each treacherous step, we’ve risen to the occasion. We have trained our minds to skip past the excuses and, like a guided missile, hone in any possible solutions.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I think that Wendell Berry was onto something. It’s through out greatest challenges that we may come to recognize our greatest strengths.

You can find more from me on my personal blog:

31 thoughts on “Bafflement Can Be a Blessing

  1. Indeed, those who challenge what they know are in short supply, Esoterica. As Socrates said, “All I know is that I know nothing.” Thus, if we believe Plato’s account, he was forever asking questions.

    Of course, the one we should question first is ourselves. Good luck and continuation of your quest to know yourself, your partner, and the world.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Your strength and resilience shines and shines, Erin. Not just in the sharing of your story but in the heartfelt encouragement you offer others. The Wendell Berry poem is new to me, but I can see why his verse sings to you! “The impeded stream is the one that sings”? I believe that to be true. The need to navigate and explore alternative paths – while often irksome and painful at first – never fails me. I find what I’m looking for when I’m challenged. Thank you for demonstrating what a growth mindset looks like…you define ‘lifelong learner’. xo! 🥰

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aww, thank you for your kind words, Vicki! 🥰 “I find what I’m looking for when I’m challenged.” Isn’t that the truth? Your comment made me visualize wandering off the beaten path and accidentally discovering a hidden waterfall. While it’s not always the path we would *choose*, perhaps it’s the path we’re meant to take.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m always surprised when I see how many folks hold a fixed mindset. I find that learning keeps me young and helps me in so many different situations. It’s a credit to you and your partner that you’ve kept open minds and keep pushing forward!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m with you, Brian! I love learning, even if it’s silly or trivial, and I think it’s important to continually stretch our minds. I think it’s a trait many bloggers here have in common. It’s no wonder we’re forged a little community here. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “So, like the impeded river, we have discovered alternate paths. Despite, or perhaps due to, the obstructions we have found reasons to sing.” Beautiful! I’m also a Dweck fan and love being around people with a Growth Mindset.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Even though I have issues with my dad, at 91 he continually is learning new things. He took ukulele lessons at 89. He started remote yacht racing a few years ago. He’s always reading and is technically pretty savvy.


      2. I love that! My grandma is 91 and just started learning the drums. It’s so great to see older folks staying engaged with life into their later years.


      3. That’s fabulous. Yes, it’s so nice see older folks engaged into their later years. My dad golfs three days a week and said he hates it when his group is behind the old guys 94 and 95 because they’re so slow!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That is too funny!! I love the visual of a 91-year-old complaining about the slow “old” 94- and 95-year-olds. How wonderful that they are all out staying active!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I love when you right about your partner, Erin. The admiration, inspiration, and resilience you both have for and with each other is just beautiful. And add a growth-mindset on top of that? Unstoppable. Thank you for such a beautiful and inspiring post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so happy to hear this, Wynne! I actually was worried while writing this that I write *too much* about my partner, but a lot of “what matters” in my world involves our relationship and things I’ve learned from him. Unstoppable, indeed! I can’t wait for the day when I have the pleasure of reading about your beautiful relationship, filled with all of the same. ❤️❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I shake my head in wonder when I encounter folks who seem to believe they have no need to stretch themselves further and simply settle in for the here and now.

    This “It’s through out greatest challenges that we may come to recognize our greatest strengths.” is my favorite sentence in this entire post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You truly are inspirational Erin, as others have said. People can be stupid sometimes, and I’m sorry your family/friends couldn’t get behind and support you in your decisions. I’m also sorry that your home was the problem for your health issues. Our homes should be a safe refuge.

    Reading your post, I thought of my brother who is constantly reading, investigating. He gets so excited with his finds that he always wants to share with everyone. Your post, and everyone’s comments got me to thinking that it’s sad that his excitement and hunger for learning is so unusual that it really stands out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Brenda, for your kind words of support. 🥰

      Your brother sounds like a bright guy! I hope the next time she shares something, you can celebrate the new knowledge with him. It really is a shame more people don’t embrace learning and personal growth. It really is what makes like interesting… especially for those of us who must live quieter, less physically active lives by necessity.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The line that resonated with me was “Just because someone is aging, that doesn’t mean they are growing.”

      One of my all time favorite quotes is Shaw’s “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”

      Here’s to always playing and always learning!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Yes, Michelle, I wholeheartedly agree that a growth mindset is what enables us to overcome challenges! And I also can’t wrap my head around how some people have no interest in learning. I was going to say, “their loss” but it’s really a loss for all of us to have our fellow humans not pursuing their fullest potential.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You two were meant to be, Erin. You often read about couples being in the honeymoon phase and then the trials afterwards are the true test of the relationship. It seems like you both had the blessing of having challenges early on and growing together and more resilient as a result of them.

    Wishing you both a happy almost 10 year anniversary! 🙏💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ab! That means so much to hear. 💕 I feel the same way–I think we were a good match to begin with, but enduring many challenges just brought us that much closer together. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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