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My Trip to Holland

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“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

This Joseph Campbell quote has followed me around for the last few years. I love this quote and I hate this quote. For too long, I clung to the idea of the life I DID plan. I didn’t want the unexpected, the unplanned. But eventually, I started to let go of it little by little. And then sometimes – like this weekend – it rears its ugly head, takes ahold of me, and I have to let it go all over again. 

Sometimes life forces your hand. It presents you with want you do want and then takes it away from you in one swift, cruel moment – a moment that defines you for a long time. You spend weeks, months, and years trying to figure out why. And the only answer you do get is that life has something else in store for you. Discovering that other life – the unplanned one – forces you to let go of a lot of things like control and certainty. For a while, you may even lose a little hope. It is only when you begin to open your mind and heart to this other life that you start to get that hope back. You stop asking “why me?” and start asking “why not me?”

In one of my last meditations from the 21-Day Challenge, an interesting question was presented– what does bliss look like to you? Bliss is defined as “a stage which is above any emotional state that is characterized as peace or happiness.” I’ve actually thought a lot about this question over the past few years. When you have a dream and it doesn’t work out, you start to wonder if it would have made you happy in the first place. In fact, maybe that destination was never meant to be. Or you could just decide to give all that angst up to the universe and find another route in a different car. You have the same blissful destination; the ride just took a lot longer and forced you to travel on a rocky, unpaved road.

This reminds me of a poem a good friend shared with me last year. My situation was different, but I could relate all the same. Whenever I get afraid of the uncertainty that lies ahead in my new unplanned life, I read this piece. And it fills me up.

Welcome to Holland

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

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