The need to define and categorise

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Saturday, January 5th, 2013
Harold A Maio, 75, is retired from teaching German and mental health editing, though he keeps a hand in both. Through art and German he has a lasting interest in expression, particularly in language. To him word is art, he likes to discern the meaning in word. Harold speaks to Newry Times this week about the need to define. I wonder why we have the need to define one another, place people in categories. See pieces of them.

Harold A Maio

The waitress approached the table to take our order, turned and disappeared into the background. She returned with water, and I told her we were celebrating my son‘s 28th birthday and how handsome he was. It is wonderful to love one’s child so much. He is a man, but also my son-child. She stepped out of her role for a moment and said, “I tell my husband our children get their good looks and brains from him. I still have mine,” and I see another view of her. I watch my son through dinner and at times I see to him I am father, he is deferential to me, respectful to me in that role, and at other times I am just another man and he interacts with me as equals, two men sitting at a table, conversing with one another. The waitress returns and is once again waitress, efficiently handing us the meals we had ordered. I look at my wife of forty years, and see the young woman to whom I proposed, that young woman still gleams. The young man in me still looks out from hazel green eyes, a grey haired man sits there for others to see, eating for the first time soft-shelled crabs, a bit squeamish for so doing. A young woman comes in, her table calls out, “Hello Beth.” It is her birthday. Playfully we, ourselves free and happy, call out “Hello Beth!”, too. It is her birthday, we do not know her, and celebrate with her. The people at her table smile happily at us, she sits, and quickly returns to being the unknown woman at the next table, with all those other unknown people at all those other tables. There are so many sides to people, why do we so often see only one? My father and mother married in the mid 1930s, he Catholic, she a not so regular practicing Protestant, Methodist, if I remember. Since she did not practice her religion my memory is vague on what she might have been. Practicing or not, on the topic of religion she was always at odds with my Dad. She, home, decided what we would be, nothing at all when it came to religion, and he, almost never at home, capitulated to her decision. I recall no fights over religion, only acceptance, and for us children, the sad divorce from my Catholic grandparents, his parents. Seldom did we see them, usually only on holidays; they never expected us, could not plan on our being there, but I recall well as a child wanting those woven palm crosses Dad brought home. Religion divided our house, making it less than a home especially on particular occasions: those when we felt, experienced, could not escape, the division. We felt it, when we visited Grandma. I have intimate memories of her, she lived well into my adulthood, but Grandpa died early. Of him I have few memories. I have no memory at all of Grandpa’s death. Division by religion is a painful thing when you are young. As time goes on the pain diminishes, we live our own lives, I newly defined as student, then university student, and then as teacher, husband, a father, myself. With no religion, religion did not divide my home. My wife did not practice hers, I did not practice mine. Adult, I saw other homes not divided by religion. Some practiced the same religion, some different ones, and some none. But all were homes. Adult, I see communities divided by religion, and I feel the same pain I experienced in the division of my childhood home. The scale is larger, the effect far greater, the division greater. I wonder why we have to define so narrowly and indeed if we must. Mother and father, we raised a family, family was how we defined ourselves. I do not understand why some communities cannot define themselves as families and others can. I look down the street from my home and people of every hue and color, religion and nationality are a neighborhood. We define ourselves as neighbors, each of us, simply people, living in harmony. In my home, in my neighborhood we all are. It is a pleasant feeling. a great place to live, in which to have raised a family. From Mom and Dad I learned much. Their division taught me unity. It has served me well. Their division taught me to see unity in families, regardless of difference. That lesson has served me well.
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