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Essay

Running to Stand Still

By March 27, 2014 One Comment
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And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was lying still
Said, “I gotta do something
About where we’re going”

You gotta cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice

You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
Then I floated out of here

I never really knew my grandpa Magnuson–he died shortly after my fifth birthday party. I have a picture of him and my grandma on their wedding day–he’s dressed in his best suit and she’s wearing a nice dress. It’s somewhat of a sad story, really. None of my grandma’s family came to the wedding–grandpa didn’t have the right religious pedigree. I think about the hard life grandma lived every time I look at their wedding picture. Her married life began in loneliness and shame; truth be told, it didn’t get much easier. My grandpa worked as a janitor at the local elementary school while grandma worked as a cook at the hospital. My mom remembers how as a young girl she would go along to pick grandpa up from the local bar. The bar tender would compassionately set her up on a stool and give her a bottle of coca cola as they calmly tried to talk grandpa into going home. He had the volatile mixture of a bad temper and alcohol, but my mom only has good things to say about him. “He was my dad,” She says, “I loved him.”

My mom once told me about the time when, while getting ready for bed, she looked out the window to see grandma dancing with another man. The firehouse across the street would hold dances on Friday and Saturday nights, and there was grandma–cutting loose. My mom, who was only nine or ten years old, lost it. Thinking that grandma had found another husband she broke down and cried. When grandpa came in to see what was wrong she told him what she’d seen. The way my mom tells it, grandpa laughed and laughed. He gave her a hug and tucked her into bed. “It’s all right,” he told her. Comforted, she fell fast asleep. 

After grandpa died grandma became a bit eccentric in her behavior. Most of the family would roll their eyes when she’d say weird or inappropriate things; she was known for being difficult to talk to and at times a bit “out there.” As I think back on it I’m sure it was her personality, we’re all a bit eccentric in the Magnuson-Lief clan, but I wonder if it was also her way of coping. Her life was hard and at times it seemed the anxious, frenetic, energy was a defense mechanism–a way to guard against the pain and loss she’d experienced. I can’t help but think of her every time I hear the U2 song “Running to Stand Still.” There always seemed to be a desperation, a searching, a desire to find that ever elusive place of rest. In the last years of her life she developed dementia and would often talk as if she were twelve or thirteen living back on the family farm. She talked about “daddy” but I was never sure if she meant her father or her husband–she called both of them daddy. I think about the wedding picture and the difficult road ahead. At the end of her life it seemed all she wanted was to be back on the farm, young and care free. I hope she’s there, under the blue Minnesota sky, free from her burdens and at peace.

She is raging, she is raging
And the storm blows up in her eyes
She will suffer the needle chill
She’s running to stand still

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

One Comment

  • Gloria Goris Stronks says:

    I love this description because I knew women like this when I was a child. She reminds me of the woman in Robert Frost's "A Servant to Servants." A bit of what her life was like after the poem. Thank you for writing.

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