Sometimes travel is a metaphor for life, and sometimes life is a metaphor for travel. The fascinating part is that they both seem to blend seamlessly into the other, side by side, and it often really doesn’t matter what the original intention was.
Perhaps one of the most interesting essays I’ve heard about recently has to be none other than Emily Perl Kingsley’s “Welcome to Holland,” originally penned in 1987. More than anything, it could not be a more apt emblem for both adventure and life, because it’s a rare day when those two things happen without each other.
Kingsley, who was a writer for Sesame Street for 45 years—yes, 45 years—gave birth to her son Jason in 1974. Unlike most parents that wish (and get) a healthy child, Jason was born with Down’s syndrome. “Welcome to Holland” illustrates her struggles as a parent of a child with a disability, and perhaps, for when our best laid plans go awry despite our deepest desires.
Kingsley herself went on to win 23 Emmys for her work, but it is this particular essay that strikes a particular cord in the medical community, and continues to affect countless people, decades after she originally wrote it.
It certainly doesn’t require having a child with a disability for someone to understand it.
Emily Perl Kingsley, “Welcome to Holland”
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport.
Only when you land, the stewardess says, ‘Welcome to Holland.”
You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “Holland? What are you talking about? I signed up for Italy.”
But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
“But I don’t know anything about Holland!” you say. ‘I don’t want to stay!”
But stay you do. You go out and buy some new guidebooks, you learn some new phrases, and you meet people you never knew existed. The important thing is that you are not in a bad place filled with despair. You’re simply in a different place than you had planned. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you’ve been there a little while and you have a chance to catch your breath, you begin to discover that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.
But everyone else you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They’re all bragging about what a great time they had there, and for the rest of your life, you’ll say, “Yes, that’s what I had planned.”
The pain of that will never go away. You have to accept that pain, because the loss of that dream, the loss of that plan, is a very, very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.
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