Shortly after my injury, someone, I honestly can't remember who, handed me a piece of paper with an essay printed on it entitled, Welcome To Holland. It is written by the famous Sesame Street writer and mother of a child with a disability, Emily Perl Kingsley. At first, I loved this piece of writing. I pinned it to my bulletin board and read it several times. I understood its beautiful sentiment to challenge readers to find wonder and awe in any given situation and to be grateful, whatever the circumstance. The author compares raising a child with a disability to arriving in Holland instead of Italy, when the planned trip was really to Italy. She shares all of the magnificent attributes of Holland, windmills, tulips, and Rembrandts. She argues Holland, or life with a child with a disability, is just a different place, but still offers wonderful things.
"It's slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy...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."...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."
As I said, I used to love this work. But, then one day I didn't. As a person with a disability, it suddenly angered me. I took it down and put it in a drawer. I love Holland. I love tulips and Rembrandts, and I also love Italy. The time I spent in Italy, right after high school, were some of the best weeks of my life. I rode on the back of scooters, looked up and was silenced by the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, tasted incredible food, and sipped wine and homemade limoncello. I woke up to elegant Italian women talking out of windows and hanging clothes on the lines that hung all the way across to the neighbor and friend's window. I watched fashion shows, in the middle of the day, on ancient steps in the heart of Rome and, in awe, witnessed the models hop on scooters in short skirts and stiletto heels and drive speedily away. Italy is full of life. The gorgeous men walk and pass by while saying, "bella, bella." The outdoor street cafes are buzzing with conversation and beauty. It's lovely and romantic. I've traveled to other countries as well and equally appreciated all they had to offer. Travel is the chance to experience and learn. I don't spend time ranking these joys. I don't consider any of the places I visited a lesser alternative. Each has so much to offer, so much to enjoy.
I did have a different life plan for myself. I did "buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans", but just because my plan didn't exactly work out to my exact standards and specific ideals, doesn't mean I didn't still land in Italy. It is my job to make my own Italy. Italy is mine for the taking.
Last evening, my friend Liz, called out my name, "Sarah, Sarah." I quickly ceased chopping my avocado and headed to the open kitchen window. In my kitchen, there is a large window that is almost floor to ceiling in length. It is a perfect spot for window conversation especially in the spring and summer time, when the windows are almost always wide open. I am blessed enough to live near great friends and we talk so much out of our windows, we started calling it Italy. I actually never realized the significance until last night. As I approached the window, I saw Liz standing outside with a friend, Libby. This was my first time meeting Libby. Liz introduced us and right away her friend exclaimed, "I wanted to come to Italy too!" She had no idea the gravity of what she just said or the lump in my throat I forced down. We all happily chatted and laughed and then waved goodnight. I returned to chopping while trying to hold back the same tears, the same lump in my throat.
I did it. I created my own Italy. My life may not be exactly as I planned, but it doesn't mean it is any less satisfying or worthy of being called Italy. Sometimes my condition may be difficult and force me to grow and change in ways I resist or loathe, but at the end of the day, I cherish these lessons and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life and the experience to learn from it. Mostly, I know for sure, my life is what I choose to see and feel and think. I can have Italy anytime I want it...it's in my very own kitchen and outside my very own window.