Welcome to Holland

Since early January I’ve been meaning to write a post about personal journeys and my own personal journey as I face all of the anniversaries related to Jay and our life together. For me, Spring kicks off a lengthy emotional roller coaster ride that pulls off some upside down loops as it careens through Summer, and then finally ends with one final, breath-taking plunge in the Fall. Early this year I stumbled across a “poem” (only in quotes, because it just doesn’t feel a poem – even e.e. cummings would agree, I’m certain) that I felt would express my feeling quite well – a way to show, through analogy, where I am on my journey. Then Covid-19 swept across the US, and we find ourselves struggling as a nation – physically, emotionally, financially – enduring unforeseen hardships while receiving daily emails from businesses who are just letting us know “they’re there for us” “#InThisTogether,” oh and, “please buy our things because look at how sincere our mass email was.” Meanwhile, people are losing jobs, wondering how to feed themselves and their families, wondering how they’ll afford rent, afford their insurance. Maybe that email hinted at temporary rent/loan forgiveness? Maybe it had information on where to get a meal? A job lead? Many folks are in the middle of their own mental health crisis with no way to get to, much less afford, a counselor. Many are stuck in a home with their abusive relative and no friends, family or teachers to see the signs or raise the flags to intervene. And all of this is occurring while we debate whether we’re ok with saying good-bye to the most vulnerable in our population – our elderly, our neighbors/co-workers/family members with compromised immune systems, healthy people who have overactive immune systems, people with diabetes, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Is it me, or did we lose sight of the fact that we were flattening the curve to avoid overwhelming health care facilities? If we say goodbye to Mee-maw, because dang she’s old, and Cousin Ben, who is on the Humera to help with that pesky arthritis (Lord only knows they weren’t contributing anything worthwhile to this world that will be missed – always thought of them as societal burdens), are we just hoping they’ll kindly toddle their way over to a mass grave to avoid the hospitals? Will that stimulate the economy? I suppose funeral homes will see an uptick.

So you see, writing that post the way I originally planned seemed rather self-centered – it just didn’t sit well; it felt gross. And the truth is, I don’t feel sad – at least not in that way.

So, let’s start with that “poem”

Welcome to Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley

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.
© 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

We were all in the middle of our own journeys – some of us were headed to Italy – excited to live our lives, travel around, take photos, and enjoy our adventures. Others were headed to Holland, throwing out our Italian guide books, trying to accept (cope) with the fact that we’d never have those staged photos of us hamming it up, pretending to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa. We were the ones hoping we’d figure out how to make the very best of a maybe not so terrible situation. Well, we travelers to Italy and Holland just had a layover. We’re stuck in some overly-congested airport that we don’t want to be in, but ultimately we’ll re-board our planes soon enough, despite all of the inconveniences. But before we re-board, please remember there are a huge number of travelers whose luggage was lost and find themselves dumped in any number of third-world countries – strangers in a strange land – forget fun travel guides, forget selfies of toes on beaches – that’s not even a consideration. These travelers don’t know how they’re going to eat, how they’re going to find shelter, or find work, and many are in immediate danger. This trip isn’t a mere inconvenience; it’s a waking nightmare – a nightmare $1200 and unemployment isn’t going to fix (though, it’s not nothin’).

So with that said, please consider supporting your local organizations that have a mission to help the most vulnerable and help our front-line workers. Also, consider shopping at local shops/restaurants, many of whom are doing their best to keep their doors open and may offer curbside/delivery options.

If you’re in Central Texas, please consider volunteering (if able) or making a donation to the Central Texas Food Bank. Right now, the food insecurity rate in Travis County is 17.1% (the US average is 15.4%) according to data from the Feeding America Map. This will grow as unemployment increases.

From the CDC’s site on how to manage stress and anxiety during this crisis:

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others

As always, check in on your family, friends, and loved ones, and remember to be kind. People are working hard and are overwhelmed. If you’re out in the wild, and you’re frustrated, take a breath and remember a lot of people are putting their lives in danger so you can have access to food and other critical services. These are the people who are keeping our infrastructure running, so be a little more patient.