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'A global grief for the Queen that has defied belief'

[The following opinion piece was published in The Australian on 22 September 2022]

Of all the things I witnessed while in London for the state funeral service of the Queen, two experiences struck me. 

The first, an early morning walk through Green Park. It was far from the pomp and ceremony of formal events. I was in my exercise gear. There were thousands upon thousands of tributes — flowers, handwritten messages and other tokens, including a sleuth of Paddington Bears.

Even in the early hours there were crowds of people: they weren’t taking selfies or posing. They were respectful of each other but largely contained in their own intimate and individual reflection on a remarkable individual.

The second was the moment the casket carrying the Queen was lowered into the royal vault at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. I hadn’t thought that I would be emotional. But I was.

She was my Queen. I don’t claim a special relationship with her — though our encounters are now treasured memories — but she was part of my life. She was a constant and reassuring presence in many Australians’ lives.

In the next moment, God Save the King was sung with gusto. A page had turned. A remarkable chapter complete. The book, though, continuing.

The global response has, by any measure, defied belief.

Defied belief in terms of numbers: I can’t think of anything larger in my lifetime.

In its genuineness — from the heartfelt notes of condolence, to the tears and cheers of the people who lined up 20 deep for hours on the side of the road to "but see her pass by".

And in the diversity of those who have responded — young and old, from every continent on earth, in positions of influence and, in far greater numbers, everyday people looking for an outlet to convey their love, respect and simple thanks.

The Queen's passing has unified the world’s emotions in a way that has transcended individualism, and especially the constant temptation to focus on what divides or frames every discussion as "for and against".

We have experienced something bigger than ourselves. This is because of who she was and what she represented.

As a person she was kind, thoughtful and compassionate. I’ve relayed stories about her over the last two weeks, including our last call when Linda and I hosted the 2022 Australians of the Year for a virtual call to celebrate the Queen's platinum jubilee.

Catching up with Dylan Alcott, Val Dempsey and Shanna Whan in London was a reminder of how special that night was and how special the Queen made us feel.

Those are attributes to be admired and are at the core of why families around Australia and the world have shared stories of their own encounters with her.

As our Queen she provided stability, comfort and, I believe, a symbol that could be believed in and trusted. She set an example of servant leadership in the exercise of influence rather than power.

In an era where trust in institutions is declining, Queen Elizabeth evolved and adapted but ultimately remained true to the commitment she made all those years ago: "Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust". In life and in death the Queen united us. She provided a common touchpoint that overcame divisions and drew people together. That too is part of her legacy and part of the reason the outpouring of emotion has been so historic.

The Queen was tireless in her service, committed to the cause that she had dedicated her life to and devoted to others before self.

The question I now ask is was the historic reaction to her passing a unique response to the Queen's remarkable life, longevity and service, or is there a greater lesson to be drawn?

Certainly we can acknowledge the example she set as an individual and aspire to match her compassion, tireless service and commitment to others in our own lives.

We can take comfort from the knowledge that the King will follow the example set by his mother. His too will be a reign characterised by servant leadership, of dignity and devotion.

Perhaps too we can reflect, particularly in times of division, on a young woman who acceded to the throne at age 25 and spent her next 70 years putting others before self, quietly influencing and leading and creating unity. She didn’t seek praise, but the fact that billions of people from every corner of the world stopped to mourn her, remember her and celebrate her life, surely speaks to her legacy.

While we have said goodbye to Elizabeth, her legacy lives on and a new era begins. In her own words, "in the end, all will be well’.