A change of plan led me to be in Edinburgh in days following the Queen's death, and during her final sojourn through Scotland. It could not have been a more poignant time to arrive in the capital city.
Now that she has left this beloved part of the UK, I think back on the last few days, and even weeks, struck by the impact of all that has happened. I reflect on what one woman's life of service meant to many of us, of what is possible and how we might aspire to live in similar ways in our own lives.
There are a myriad of things people have said about the Queen. You only need to go online to see the responses:
Her Majesty was a rare and reassuring constant amidst rapid change.
Through the noise and turbulence of the years, she embodied and exhibited a timeless decency and an enduring calm.
She showed steady grace and resolve.
She was kind.
Full of integrity.
She saw the best in people.
Queen Elizabeth II was a shining example of what we all might hope to be as human beings. A bridge between people, cultures and countries - literally to the very end.
As Canadian Prime Minister, Trudeau said in his moving tribute:
'She was Canada’s Queen for almost half of its existence. '
It's hard to believe, but Canada is that young.
And the Queen, through her steadfastness and strong sense of purpose, was a young 96 years when she died. Through the long era of her reign, she embraced the new, while still remaining consistent and rooted in her faith, the foundation of her being. She trusted God for strength, which ultimately showed up through her life of service and humility.
She was restrained and contained, listening to the voices of others, hardly raising her voice or making her personal opinions known in public. But looking back, her life was the most profound living statement that could ever be made.
It is almost too difficult to put into words, but what a star, shining so bright in all our hearts and minds and memories.
The new King has big shoes to fill. But I believe he will. Maybe for not as long as Queen Elizabeth II, but he will step up to the plate, in a different way.
It's hard to believe I met King Charles only a few weeks ago in Caithness! There, he was relaxed and jovial, attending the Canisbay church service, taking part in the Mey Highland Games and visiting the local arts exhibition. On the occasion when I met him, after he planted a tree in the local churchyard for the Queen's Jubilee, he shared a joke with my friend, Murray Watts, and talked about his walk along the coastal path past Freswick Castle. On reflection I remember peeping over the garden wall when I heard voices go past, but I had no idea that it was him!
Then he was Prince Charles. Now he is King. A King in mourning.
On Sunday, while on the motorway to Edinburgh, my colleague and I ended up taking a diversion into town as it was clear we were behind the cortege and traffic was heavy. Eventually I got to my destination, only a few miles from where the Queen had been placed to rest at Holyrood Palace not long before I arrived.
The next afternoon I met with a friend, and rather than sit inside drinking a coffee, we decided to enjoy the glorious weather and walk down to the palace, with the hopes of witnessing the procession to St. Giles Kirk at the top of the Royal Mile.
Midst the throngs of people standing in the narrow cobblestone and appropriately named street, we did manage to catch a glimpse of the procession as the black cars left the palace. Being there and walking along with the unusually quiet and dense crowds, made it a somber time, the silence occasionally broken by clapping from the multitude. My friend and I continued to wind our way through the city following the evident queue that was developing for later visits to the kirk.
At one point, feeling hungry, we decided to grab cake and coffee in a small pub tucked away in the Royal Mile.
When we sat down, my friend pointed to a portrait on the wall. It was of the Queen. I don't know if it was planned, but it seemed serendipitous. We ordered a cream tea, coffee, and cake and chatted for a while before continuing on our pilgrimage, following the long running queue. Eventually it led us to the Meadows where, instead of joining the growing line, we sat in the grass in the sunshine and caught up some more.
Later I was struck by the lowering light and the wind in the trees, so I stopped to take a photo.
Edinburgh is beautiful at this time of year.
On our way home, back on the Royal Mile, we passed the National Library where there was a book of condolence for the public to sign. The line was significantly shorter so we stepped in and wrote some words down.
Many people have differing views about the Royal Family, and some are not too sure it is relevant to this day and age. I understand those thoughts.
And yet, one cannot deny the fact that it is tradition and structures which have been put in place over the years that have enabled such a woman to take on this lifelong role, and be an example to us all. She was a manifestation of all that we would hope for in a leader over seven decades, a living proof of the kind of service that is hard to match.
She leaves her mark for such a time as this.
Scotland’s Makar (national poet) Kathleen Jamie has written a new poem on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral. Of the poem, Jamie said, “A makar’s role is to bring poetry into the heart of our national life. With an extraordinary national event as we are having now, I felt that it was incumbent on me to make a poem for the occasion.”
"I chose to do this in an old-fashioned form to represent the virtues that many people found in the Queen, of constancy and tradition.”
"The poem speaks to the landscape. In this, I find I can have something in common with the Queen: a love of the Scottish landscape. So, when I was thinking about how to make the poem my imagination went to that part of the Scottish landscape that she loved so well."
by Kathleen Jamie
The alder boughs hang heavy,
Red weighs the rowan-trees
That line the well-loved path which climbs
To Lochnagar from Dee
And knows at last the open hill,
Those ancient wind-honed heights
Where deer stand shy and sky-lined,
Then vanish from living sight,
Where grief is ice, and history
Is distant roiling skies,
Where weather chases weather
Across the lands she strived
To serve, and served supremely well,
Till the call came from afar:
Back to the country kept in her heart,
The Dee, and Lochnagar.