A few years ago, our family visited Annapolis on a family trip. One evening several of us went to a historic pub in Annapolis where we lingered after dinner to play in the weekly trivia night. Free drinks were on the line, and we were in the mood to compete.
We came close to winning. But there was confusion over terminology. When the question was asked: “What is the largest single living thing on the planet?” the organizers’ answer was the blue whale, the largest animal on earth.
But actually, said our team (my husband Tim), “the Humongous Fungus in an Oregon forest, with a size of almost 3 1/2 square miles (primarily underground), is the Earth’s largest living thing.” What may appear to a hiker in the forest as individual mushrooms is actually part of one organism with a massive root system.
Sadly, the organizers stuck with their pre-determined answer and we had to pay for our own drinks.
Another fun fact about the world’s largest organism: In addition to being huge, it also has been growing for a long time – about 2,400 years. It has survived and endured despite changing and sometimes adverse conditions. Its interconnectedness is the key to its survival.
That’s what I find interesting. This link between interconnectedness and survival applies to humans as well as plant life, but for humans, there’s a question of choice, of intentionality.
Our “rootedness” comes to some extent from our parents, extended family, and surrounding community when we are children. But our interconnectedness is also chosen by us as adults. In turn, we offer connection to others, our children, extended family, and the surrounding community.
The expansion of a healthy root “system” is critical to our own and others’ survival. To borrow a word from science class – it’s symbiosis. None of us lives well all by ourselves. The autonomous individual is a myth.
During this past year, many of our connections have been disrupted. Our “root system” has become smaller and less interwoven. We have been challenged by adverse conditions. What we have held on to has required more energy and planning than before. But we must persist. We must nourish and strengthen our roots, and our connections, and send new roots out into the world. With phone calls, Zoom meetings, live-streamed Mass and prayers, socially distant visits, and service, we “strengthen the bonds of unity” (1 Peter 5:10). This is what keeps us alive!
This past weekend, my 5-month-old granddaughter was baptized. It took four months to schedule the baptism, and because of safety protocols, there was a limit on guests and it was outdoors. Planning a socially distant, very small lunch in our backyard required extra effort. The godparents couldn’t hold the baby and some of us had to shout to be heard.
Still, it was beautiful. Father David did a lovely job. Another child of God welcomed and celebrated. Rooted.
The Pando quaking aspen grove of Utah is another example of endurance. At an estimated 80,000 years old, it is far older even than the giant fungus and has endured fire, drought, and seismic change. It continues to grow.
We can, too, connected as we are in the Body of Christ.