Metaphors turn up in the strangest places. There is a bush, or maybe a tree, growing out of the concrete divider at the edge of the overpass at Harlem Avenue and North Boulevard right on the dividing line between Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park — our tri-village axis, adjacent to the CTA Green Line terminus.

The Harlem underpass is one of the most unsightly and decrepit looking examples of municipal infrastructure in any of these three villages. Rusted metal, curling at the edges, marking a place almost entirely devoid of direct sunlight. A no-man’s, and no-meaning, land for sure. I’m not even sure the graffiti artists bother with it. All three villages would dearly love to see this pass-through renovated, but they haven’t been able to convince federal and/or state authorities to help fund it. Their grant applications keep getting turned down. Competition for such funding is fierce, but all they really need to do is get someone who makes such funding decisions to look at this aging undergirding, and the grant would be granted lickety-split.

And it is here, if you find yourself waiting for the left-turn arrow on Harlem, facing south, that you’ll see a remarkably well-developed bush (or maybe tree) directly beneath the helpful sign that directs motorists to go around this barrier to the right as if IDOT feared we might all, left to our own devices and shortsightedness, drive straight into this impediment — or even more distressing, maybe enough people have done just that, so they felt a helpful hint might be necessary.

If this bush gets much taller, it will obscure even this helpful hint.

Nevertheless, I’m hoping no one will notice this peculiar situation and that the bush is allowed to keep growing. Somehow a seed found its way into some crevice in the concrete, germinated, and took root. What a long shot. A minor horticultural miracle. Some might be tempted to dismiss this undistinguished plant as a “weed,” but I see it as a sign of hope in difficult times. It is the vegetational equivalent of the pendant light hanging over the entrance to St. Edmund Church, which has been closed and fenced off for several months now after a powerful wind toppled a gargoyle that crashed through the roof into the church, silencing the bell tower, which I miss, and locking the doors while the archdiocese dithers over what to do with Oak Park’s first Catholic Church.

That light could serve as a sign to the faithful that this is not an empty shell but a living sanctuary.

As you can see, I am a metaphor collector, searching for tangible signs of hope, upon which we can hang our longings and attach our belief that better times will come.

On Saturday, the light over the St. Ed entry was lit, which made me feel hopeful because this was the church where, in 1949, my parents were married, an extremely meaningful connection for me. But the next day, the light was dark.

There is nothing so depressing as a dead church. Who is the patron saint of long shots?

This bush may be the ultimate long shot, green and growing in spite of its inhospitable concrete base, in spite of auto exhaust pollution day and night. I’m rooting for it (so to speak). It is beautiful in its vulnerability. Granted, its competition on the beauty front is limited, but it brightens up the surrounding desolation. And it demonstrates that life will not be denied. If it can wriggle through such an impressive array of obstacles and find the sun, then who are we to complain about the obstacles in our path?

The bush has plenty of company, of course. Each summer, every crack in sidewalks and streets is adorned by growth. By August, the man-made world will be a veritable greenhouse of curiously persistent greenery. Even our urban landscape, steeped in sterility, attracts more and more wildlife, it seems, each year — coyote, deer, fox, hawks, turkey vultures, possums, raccoons — as if Nature were trying to tell us: Not so fast. You can’t secede from the web of life.

Nature finds a way. And it finds a way to remind us: Watch out or I’ll send another strong wind and kill another church.

Nature has a way of consecrating our desolations — and desolating our consecrations.

Maybe it’s telling us we’re already living in a cathedral. We just need to look around and pay attention. But the same windstorm that shut down St. Edmund also bowled over several beautiful older trees in my favorite natural cathedral, Austin Gardens.

So for now, I’m left with this curious shrub, a plant pioneer, in its concrete home at the base of the Harlem Avenue viaduct, serving as my metaphor for defying the odds — and also the power of resilience.

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