As I sit on my couch and stare outside at the vacant balconies of the neighbouring apartments, the eerily quiet streets and the empty lawns, I think about all the things that I would normally be doing on a Sunday afternoon and all the places I would be headed to. It’s pretty remarkable how everything changed at the drop of a hat. All plans on hold, all outings cancelled, all routine as we knew it turned upside down. During these last few days I have found myself thinking about the well-known poem “Welcome to Holland”. The poem is written by Emily Perl Kingsley about a person who plans a trip to Italy. The person has done research, bought tickets, and has every detail in order, until the stewardess suddenly announces that the plane has landed in Holland and the person is forced to quickly adapt to the new circumstances.
These last few weeks have thrown us all for a loop. Humans by nature like to plan, or at the very least have something to look forward to. Even totally spontaneous people require some form of stability to keep them going. And if the change in our schedules wasn’t anxiety provoking enough, the fact that Pesach is around the corner, the holiday that is centered around families being together, is definitely a source of angst in many people’s homes.
We all had an idea of what these next few months were going to look like. We made plans, booked appointments, scheduled meetings, and arranged parties. For Pesach, we created menus, bought groceries, wrote Divrei Torah, and extended invitations-it was all going to be very exciting. “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”
And slowly with each day more and more restrictions were put in place, and we realized that these next few months are out of our hands, and that this year’s Pesach night was truly going to be different from all other nights… “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’.”
And we thought, “different??!!” But we made plans! That trip we were SO looking forward to! What about the party we were going to celebrate? Or that very important meeting that we scheduled? And Pesach?? We want to celebrate the holiday with our families, eat mom’s food, hear zaidy’s stories from the old country! This is not what we signed up for, It’s not fair!”
“‘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 then I take a deep breath, and a step back. I remember that different, doesn’t have to be bad. These new circumstances just mean learning new things about ourselves and others. They’re giving us, an opportunity to learn to be co-workers, playmates, cook new foods, learn new technologies, and reconnect with friends and family. It’s not all that bad, it’s simply different.
“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.”
Life right now is slower-paced. For most of us, we’re wearing our sweats more often, and eating lots of cereal. But after a few weeks, I’ve started to notice that our apartment gets beautiful sunlight shining through the windows around 2:00PM every day, and playing guitar on the balcony is really very soothing. Being cooped up at home is kind of a nice break from the non-stop, fast-paced rhythm of everyday life.
“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.”
And yes, there will be moments that are missed. Simchas that should have been celebrated together, visits that would have been wonderful, and milestones that may never happen again. There are people who are extremely ill and many who have died from this horrible disease. And the feeling of missed opportunities and pain may linger for a long time..
“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 we spend all our time lamenting all the things we could have been doing, all the places we would have gone or the people we should have seen, we will surely miss out on all the new memories we are creating. All the games we’re playing, the family bonding we’re doing, the reconnecting with old and new friends, the conversations we are having. The very special and wonderful, things about now.
“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.”
**Note: This poem is about a person who is pregnant and gives birth to a child with special needs. The poem describes the struggles that come with learning to adapt to their new normal. I do not wish in any way to equate these struggles to our current COVID-19 situation. I’m hoping to learn from these parents and draw on their strength in being able to adapt to new circumstances and approach them from a different perspective.
Here is a link to the original poem by Emily Perl Kingsley: https://www.dsasc.ca/uploads/