by Liz Jansen
Recently I wrote an article about ‘meeting’ my paternal grandfather for the first time during last year’s motorcycle trip to northern Alberta. “Isn’t that the trip you crashed on,” asked my editor? “You didn’t mention it.”
He was remembering back to when I’d initially set out to explore the lives of my ancestors and how their experiences lived in me. That crash had changed my plans and injected a two-year hiatus into my journey. His question, however, raised the question. What if that hadn’t happened? Would I have met my grandfather?
Whether things happen for a reason is not up for debate. They happen. I crashed. I can never know for certain whether I would have met my grandfather had that event not happened. I only know how life has gone since then and not the infinite number of outcomes that could have materialized if I’d made other choices, either before or after.
To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking when I started out in 2014. I’d planned to visit the area in southern Alberta where my dad lived between ages 4 and 11, but only for a day, and then I was moving on. I figured I’d fill in the stories by speaking to relatives and going through old photos.
I had no intentions of making the trek up to Beaverlodge in Peace River country where dad’s parents, my grandparents Johann and Liese Klassen, first tried to settle and where dad spent his first two years. He has no memory of his father who died there in 1928 just before his 29th birthday, leaving a widow with an infant.
For a few months, Liese took in laundry from the railway workers to make ends meet, hauling water from a well and heating it in a cauldron over a wood fire. Then she and dad moved south, where she met and married Peter Jansen, whose name I carry. Stories from that time are much more prevalent. It was here that I crashed.
Bypassing Beaverlodge, I would have missed a very formative time for my ancestors, and me. I would have missed walking the land they lived on, getting to know their early life in Canada, and visiting the overgrown, derelict rural cemetery where the man whose blood runs through me is buried. On land he tried to tame. The man who, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, got his family to a land of freedom.
I would have missed gaining a glimpse into the strength, courage, resilience, and gratitude that propelled my grandparents’ start in a new life. My visit gave me an opportunity to honor Johann and express my gratitude for the sacrifices he made so I could live the life I have today.
Had things gone differently on August 27, 2014, I may have eventually realized my omission and circled back, maybe after my trip to South America. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that my life is forever and deeply enriched for choosing to make that trip last year.
Every day we make many decisions. Even the small ones can have far reaching consequences beyond our imagination and knowledge. For better or worse, once they’re made, there’s no point in second guessing them. It doesn’t mean that in the light of new information, we can’t change our mind.
Rather than brooding on potential missed opportunities, it’s more important to maneuver around the “what-if” obstacles. They’re traps that can prevent us from moving forward.
Instead, recognize they may have served a purpose at one time and let them go with gratitude. Then make the best decision on how to move forward from where you are.