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"Welcome to Holland" and the Cosmic Travel Agent

December 15, 2021 | by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

Having a special needs child has been compared to planning a vacation to Italy and somehow landing in Holland. What happens if you're too distraught to leave the plane?

"Welcome to Holland" is a popular piece of prose parents of special needs children either love or hate. It was one of the first pieces sent to me and my wife after the birth of our son with Down’s syndrome. There was a small intellectual part of me that appreciated the metaphor, but at the time I wasn't emotionally ready to hear or absorb its message. I was reeling.

The author, Emily Perl Kingsley, compares having a child with a disability to planning an exciting vacation to Italy and suddenly landing in Holland. After dreaming about seeing all the incredible sites of Italy, there's been an inexplicable change in flight plans and you're stuck in Holland. She writes:

"So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language… 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.

"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 go away... 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."

I was still mourning over losing out on my dream vacation to Italy and couldn't appreciate the article's point. That sense of loss is a natural reaction, one that has to be accepted and processed in order to embrace the joys and challenges of visiting this unexpected, foreign country you suddenly find yourself in.

But what happens if you land in Holland and you're so upset you never want to leave the plane? You want to sue the airline!

My wife and I eventually got there, and raising our precious son Yehuda has been filled with tremendous milestones, nachas and challenges, as it has been with all of our children.

But what happens if you land in Holland and you're so upset you never want to leave the plane? You're too distraught to even look at the windmills and appreciate the Rembrandts. Landing here has been a terrible mistake, a gross injustice, and you want to sue the airline to get your money back!

Kingsley's piece doesn't adequately address this. She presents landing in Holland as some kind of inexplicable turn of events.

Cosmic Travel Agent

Essential to overcoming the sense of resentment, anger and disappointment is realizing that God is your travel agent. He knows exactly to where you need to fly, and that Holland is the perfect location for you. There's a good reason you didn't go to Italy. Holland was always meant to be your destination.

Bringing God into the equation alters the meaning of "Welcome to Holland." It's not just "you're stuck here, so might as well as enjoy it." Holland is your ideal spot; it's where you are meant to be. Yes, it requires a significant readjustment, and you may not understand at first why the Cosmic Travel Agent sent you here, but you know He knows what He's doing. It's not a mistake. This is where you need to be. Now try to figure out why.

You may not understand at first why the Cosmic Travel Agent sent you here, but you know He knows what He's doing. It's not a mistake. This is where you need to be. Now try to figure out why.

Knowing that somehow this was for our good made a huge difference in our lovingly accepting the challenge in raising our son. I'm not saying it's easy – it isn't. But trusting that God is orchestrating events gave us the courage to exit the plane and the confidence and peace of mind to face what comes our way. God ensures that every person arrives in the exact, tailor-made country in which they uniquely need to be. There is no reason to compare Holland to Italy. You are where you're supposed to be.

And the Cosmic Travel Agent hasn't abandoned you. He's still orchestrating events once you're off the plane, making sure each person is getting what they need to create their unique ultimate vacation.


I was recently reminded that this not only goes for me and my wife, but for our son Yehuda as well.

I bought the game Mastermind, and was first playing with my younger, super-smart son Noah, who loves this kind of mental challenge. It's been years since I played this game and I was surprised how hard it could be. It took Noah all 12 tries to guess the color sequence.

"I'm playing next," Yehuda told me, "and I'll show you how to really use your brain."

Gevalt. I'm all for Yehuda giving everything his best shot, but I was concerned that Mastermind was out of his league and I didn't want him to experience such frustration and failure. But not playing wasn't an option.

He set up the board, I selected my four colored pieces which were hidden from view, and Yehuda started guessing. Within three short turns he figured out the four colors, and in two more turns he nailed the correct placement by looking over his past guesses. He aced it in five quick moves! Incredible! And he did it totally on his own, with me showing him only once how to cross check.

This was his accomplishment and my wife and I were so proud.

And I was also struck at how different the two games with my sons were, flabbergasted at how God gave each son the exact setup they needed for a challenging game respective of their cognitive abilities.

Not only does the Cosmic Travel Agent send us to the ideal location, every person on the tour gets a perfectly calibrated experience tailor-made to his or her needs.

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