I was standing on a bluff in northern Denmark, gazing out at the North Sea. I had come to see where my great-grandfather had lived. It was also the place he had decided to leave.
He had wanted a different life, a better life. Even if it meant leaving behind his relations and friends, his culture, his language, his livelihood, and any predictability or safety he might have had. He was willing to take the big gamble. Would the ship even make it across the Atlantic? And if it did, would he be able to find work, shelter, the necessities? And what if he didn’t like it in America? What if he’d been sold a big steaming pile of lort?
Other people in my family tree—and yours (unless they were brought here against their will)—had made similar decisions. A different life in a different place held more promise than whatever life they already had. It was even worth giving up things they loved. It was worth the risk.
A hundred and forty years later, there I was—maybe on a spot where Christen Christensen had considered his family’s future—also thinking about making a big life change. I didn’t know yet what it would be, but it would probably be something more than moving to a different neighborhood. I suspected it would be something more radical. And maybe more difficult.
If major life changes were easy I would have made mine long before my mental health was in jeopardy. But I had wanted things to change without making any real changes. Changes would be… oh… inconvenient. I wanted the anger, depression, and feelings of pointlessness to just disappear. Without any hard work or sacrifices. Too bad wishing doesn’t make it so.
Luckily, a bit of whatever it was about my ancestors that gave them the willingness and strength to make the big change had filtered down to me. Now, instead of being a melancholy quarter-Dane wondering whether to be or not to be, or where to be, or how to be, I’m living happily in a van. What a journey. Jeg elsker mit liv.
Al Christensen has been living in a self-converted van since 2013. He descended from Danish, Scottish, Irish and English risk takers.