Welcome to Holland


I recently purchased the most delightful book, which I’m currently in the process of reading. The eminent and emeritus Stanford University professor of psychiatry, Irvin Yalom, MD says about it, “I’ve been reading books about psychotherapy for over a half century, but never have I encountered a book like this one: so bold and brassy, so pack with good stories, so honest, deep, and riveting. The book is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (2019) written by psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author, Lori Gottlieb; a book in which she talks about her life as a therapist, her own therapy, and life in general. In a chapter titled “Welcome to Holland, “Gottlieb includes an essay by the same name–“Welcome to Holland”–written by Emily Perl Kingsley, the parent of a child with Down syndrome. The essay poignantly describes “the experience of having your life’s expectations turned upside down.” The essays reads as follows:

“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 even 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 flight attendant 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 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 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.”

Was I wrong? Is “Welcome to Holland” not a “poignant” essay about “having your life’s expectations turned upside down”? Lori Gottlieb adds an additional comment later in the chapter: “(Truth is) ‘we’re all in Holland, because most people don’t have lives that go exactly as planned.'”

Like Lori Gottlieb, we think about ”Talking to Someone,” but with one goal in mind: CHANGE! Change me! Change him! Change her! Change us! Change the situation! We overlook another strategy which the professor-psychologist, Marsha Linehan, PhD calls “dialectical”, meaning complementary, not contradictory. Both/and. Not either/or. It’s the same strategy so brilliantly articulated in “Welcome to Holland”: ACCEPTANCE!

The developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Steven C. Hayes, PhD (2012) writes about the wisdom of acceptance:

“Almost everyone has read or heard the famous serenity prayer commonly used in 12-step programs:

‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.’

The reason this simple prayer is so widely known is that it addresses a basic conundrum of our daily existence. What do we do when life delivers us the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?’ How do we deal with the pain of birth, death, divorce, rejection, illness, and myriad other life events we have no control over? How to proceed in the face of such pain is an important question that each of us faces over and over again in the process of pursuing a vital life. This prayer says it takes a certain kind of ‘wisdom’ to live life well.”

Emily Perl Kingsley clearly understood this wisdom, and expressed it accordingly: “Welcome to Holland”

Bill Bray, Colorado Springs, CO

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