I took my Dad home to Kilspendie Kirk in Kilspendis Scotland on Sunday, September 30th, a journey that is now complete. It is no accident that everything that has happened up to this point, either in my life, or in my grief was bringing me full circle even if I didn’t know it at the time.
I grew up with storytellers. My grandfather Willard James Cleland proudly displayed the Kneeland/Cleland family crest on the wall on the right hand side of the front door upon leaving the house. It was two rampant hares with the Latin words “Non Sibi”* written underneath. I asked as a little girl often to hear the story of how Alexander Kneeland (Kneeland was later changed to Cleland), the Prelate of Kilspendis, Uncle to the great Sir William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland, and brother in law to William Wallace’s mother Margaret, took Young William Home from Lanark after Wallace’s father and brother were killed attempting to take on the English after many of their countrymen were murdered for not answering the Ragmans Roll. If you have seen Braveheart it is the scene where the bodies are hanging in the cottage at the beginning. They were killed for not pledging allegiance to King Edward I, the Longshanks. It wasn’t his “Uncle Argyle” who took him and educated him, it was in fact Alexander Kneeland, my direct descendant. I knew this story front and back but it wasn’t until I became super curious about my genealogy that I was able to work with my father to actually verify it. My dad spent hundreds of hours researching and reading to record the long line of stories. In 1990 my mom and dad went to Scotland to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. From the very moment they came home he talked about returning….that never happened. I always knew I would go someday…
*”Non Sibi” translated means “not for self”. I can’t think of a better motto to represent the lineage. William Wallace was most certainly not for self as the Guardian of Scotland, and I certainly feel that way about my father, who’s life was spent in service to others. He shouted to me when I was playing Scottish Highland games with my friends ,”Non Sibi!!” I can see him walking past wearing his sweatshirt and kilt and raising his walking staff in a fast two – bump “hip hip hurray” fashion.
Several years ago our friend George began making the pilgrimage to America from Edinburgh for Th’ Gatherin’. Before he would come Dad would ask him to bring stones, quite literally rocks, from somewhere meaningful or historical to present to the warriors of Th’ Gatherin’ as a token of appreciation. Some stones came from the river by Rosslyn Castle, some from Wallace’s cave, some from the borders, and every year I looked so forward to George’s visit and the stones. The stones are proudly displayed in my home to this day while they represent nothing but the passing of time and a reminder of Scotland. On one occasion my father gave George a stone from America, more specifically a stone from Gilead, Indiana, where my family settled upon immigration to America in the 1700’s. He asked George to take the stone back to Scotland….George obliged and took the stone as requested to Kilspendie.
Not easy to find, nor easy to navigate we came to Kilspendie on a beautiful morning one hour too late to attend services at this ancient kirk. We walked down the hill and across the footbridge, over the river in absolute one with nature. The river swiftly running beneath us and the greenest foliage I’ve ever seen. It is so quiet that the voices in my head are louder than the river. The gate is shut so we open it and upon entering the bright red gate George walks about three feet inward and begins looking next to the wall. “It’s a round-flat rock I put it here next to the wall, I’m sure it’s still here.” I take a couple of steps ahead of him and find a stone covered in some moss, but markedly different than the other stones laying on the ground or near the ancient headstones. I pick it up and he exclaimed, “Aye! That’s it Elizabeth, that’s the one indeed!!” Lying quietly waiting for us is the rock marking the place I am supposed to be. Next to a stone a few feet away from the gate in the middle of the wall is the spot where I know that I am supposed to lay Dad’s ashes. I knelt down and took the tin out of my bag and gently emptied my heart. I laid the stone on top and recited an Our Father. With thanks to God for the best dad a girl could ask for and thanks for the continued life I have been given, I know that without a doubt I am in the right place. I am thankful that after these difficult 44 months it was time for me to give him rest and for me to find peace. At a little, quiet, country church I have found the relief and acceptance I was looking for. Maybe Dad didn’t need the closure or the journey, but my soul did. Until this point I truly had no closure. There was no funeral at the time of his death, however, there was a service 4 1/2 months later, but in me there was no peace. The pull to take him back was echoing so loudly that I couldn’t continue to ignore it.
The Church was closed so I couldn’t go inside to explore it so I spent some time exploring the graveyard and looking at dates. In the blink of an eye an older gentleman crossed the footbridge and appeared like an angel. He asked if we would like to see in the church and offered to open the doors! What a brilliant site it was! To sit in the pews completely overwhelmed me. I cried tears for what I had lost, tears for what I had found, tears for Old and new, life and death. Complete. It was complete. Then he asked if I noticed the gate on the wall next to where I laid the ashes? “Yes, I saw it” I said. “That’s the Wallace gate. The gate where young William Wallace crossed from the castle where he lived with his uncle, to attend church.” I had no idea the full depth of this place. But I do now. Full circle. I have come full circle.
Until then…..Non Sibi….not for self…ever.