The nature of relationships are quite interesting and perplexing all within one single thought. In nature, we understand that every species has an ecological niche (a term describing the way of life of a species) – which is separate and unique. This niche describes how an organism or population responds to the distribution of resources and competitors and how in turn the organism changes those factors. The fact that no two species can occupy a niche is an interesting fact and yet can be confounding at the same time. I remember reading an article while pursuing my undergraduate degree in Biology about some Ecologists who observed these two different species of birds existing within the same tree. After numerous hours of observation and study, they were able to discern the birds were actually in a mutualistic relationship within the same ecological niche. How was this possible? The Ecologists concluded that while one bird walked down the tree, the insects on top of the bark were the food source and while the other bird walked up the tree, the insects underneath the bark were the food source. The two different species were able to exist in the same ecological niche without needing to compete for resources. How does this matter to anything here in Derry/Londonderry or East Belfast?
The conflict which has permeated throughout Derry/Londonderry or East Belfast, reminds me of the observational study completed by the Ecologists. The irony of these situations is really that this is not a competition between different species for resources, rather this battle is between the same “species (people),” competing for resources which hold a more significant meaning. The context of this competition goes back centuries and yet neither group can claim the definitive victory they seek – a peaceful co-existence and sustainable economy. The power of recognizing the difference as perceived verses actual has been broached and is gaining traction; however, there is a sense that for every step forward there are several steps back. Also, the divergence between perceptions is such that some could contend that the groups are not the same species and the distinction between them is what really facilitates in finding or giving meaning to their existence and therefore purpose.
In keeping separation, we are limiting our ability receive the gifts each of us has to offer the other. The words of Saint Augustine remind us that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. Perhaps on a deeper level if we can see the sameness in each other and open ourselves to receive the gifts each other have to offer, we can move forward – whether in Derry/Londonderry or when we return to our lives outside of this experience.