My dear good friend Bill Marvel used a word in a sentence at our Salon the other day.
Neither of us remember clearly what he was referring to, but the word, bromeliad, struck a chord with me.
What’s that? I asked.
One of those little plants that seem to exist unconnected to any roots, he replied, perhaps. (Both of us indulge in memoir from time to time, so I say ‘perhaps’ because we don’t feel the great need to quote exactly, as long as we are true to the gist of things. which, of course, comes with its own set of problems, memories being what they are, but I digress)
So, I had to look up bromeliads, natch. I discovered that bromeliad is the larger group that contains the free floating untethered bits of greenery called Tillandsias. Since bromeliad has a much stouter ring, evoking Jonathan Swift, that satirical Irishman, and his inventions of sounds such as Brobdignagian and Lilliputian, we shall throw all the bromeliads in the same bag and watch it float away.
I had, indépendant of Salon, been thinking about the concept of being untethered for a while. This nagged at me because of a conversation I had with someone dear to me who politely declined my suggestion of ‘tethering” her family through a religious rite I hold dear.
Years ago, when part of my job was to teach Baptism classes, the fashion was to de-emphazize Original Sin (sorry St. Augustine) and to emphasize community and heritage and family lore and connectedness to the Big Story, our overarching Christian mythos that binds us one to the other and to God.
I asked the class to bring with them some token from their family history that they held dear. Some brought photographs, coin collections, medals, bits of jewelry, that sort of thing. I brought a potato peeler. Not because the Irish ate a lot of potatoes, but because this peeler was used in countless family meals, both great and small. And so, it held a bit of our family history.
A stretch? Maybe.
But, it stands in place as (shall I say it?) a sacramental. One of the greatest things for a Catholic writer, or a writer who is Catholic, is the abundance of ordinary, everyday objects and physical, rough, elegant, oily, watery, things that evoke the holy by the manner in which they are used and remembered. The ordinary holy burlap and silk of the way we are tethered, one to another, and personally, communally to God.
Untethered is a fiction, for even Tillandsia Bromeliads need water and air and a place to hover.