It is usually quiet out at the Greenwood Cemetery. Often you hear birds chirping in the sky above.
Sometimes you hear cars go by on the road below.
I've heard the sound of a chain saw in the distance. Somebody probably had a dead tree on their property and they were now cutting it up for firewood. They were trying to take that which was dead and make it into something useful.
I visit my grandmother's grave at the cemetery and I remember my mother wondering what useful thing came out of her beloved mother's two-year, painful battle with cancer. She struggled with why this person who was so well-liked and respected had to suffer so. I visit my father's grave and wonder how his death, that seemed to come far too soon, was in any way useful.
It is often easier to turn dead branches into something useful than it is to find usefulness in the death of a loved one.
Still we go to the cemetery and we ask questions; questions for which answers may not be fully found in this life. We ask questions, and we listen to the birds. We look out on the bay as we look to the past.
Often we don't hear many external noises while at the cemetery, but we might hear many things going on in our heads. We look at the names on the grave markers and we hear laughter shared long ago. We hear the voices of those who believed in us. Their words of support can still inspire and encourage us today.
Sadly some hear harsh words. The voices no longer speak, but they still hear the words of judgment and condemnation. They try to block them out. They know they need to forgive, but it is hard.
People have been visiting Greenwood Cemetery and remembering for more than 100 years. I've heard stories about how years ago the body of the deceased would be transported around the point by boat. The casket would then be met down in the mud flats and hauled up the hill. For pall bearers, families probably didn't pick their six closest friends, but their six strongest friends.
The body of the first pastor of the church that I serve, Bethany Lutheran, was most likely one of those that was transported by boat around the point. Pastor Hans Olson made the long journey west in 1890 in response to a request from Norwegian immigrants who wanted to start a new church. Two years after he came, at the age of 34, he died. The widow he left behind probably visited Greenwood and asked the question why. What sustained her was the hope that the grave was not the end.
The cemetery is full of history and full of memories. We leave the remains of our loved ones at the cemetery, but we don't leave our memories there. They go with us throughout our life, no matter how far away from the cemetery we might travel.
The bad memories try to travel with us. They become like unwanted companions on the journey that we can't get away from. They insist on going everywhere we do. If we are going to escape them, we need to learn to forgive the ones who are gone, forgive ourselves and receive forgiveness from God. Otherwise we never go forward because we are always looking back.
The good memories want to travel with us. They are like traveling companions who always make the journey more pleasant. They help us endure and enjoy the toughest of trips. Those good memories are waiting for us to invite them to come along.
Around Memorial Day many of us go to the cemetery. We often leave flowers or other things there. What might be more important, however, is what kind of memories and lessons we take with us when we leave there.
Craig Johnson was born and raised in Astoria and graduated from Astoria High School. He returned to Astoria in 1999 and pastors Bethany Free Lutheran Church.