When Our Lady Came to Chicago

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Four high school students from different backgrounds share an experience which is both sublime and profound.

CHICAGO, April 19 – A steady stream of the faithful and the curious, many carrying flowers and candles, have flocked to an expressway underpass for a view of a yellow and white stain on a concrete wall that some believe is an image of the Virgin Mary.

"We believe it's a miracle," said Magda Brignac, 42, of Chicago. "We have faith, and we can see her face."

Police have patrolled the emergency turnoff area under the Kennedy Expressway since Monday as hundreds of people have walked down to see the image and the growing memorial of flowers and candles that surround it. Beside the image is an artist's rendering of the Virgin Mary embracing Pope John Paul II in a pose some see echoed in the stain.

Tuesday morning, women knelt with rosary beads behind a police barricade while men in work shirts stood solemnly before the image, praying. A police officer kept the crowd of about three dozen from getting too close to the traffic but didn't stop them gathering around the stain.

The stain is likely the result of salt run-off, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The agency does not plan to scrub it off the wall…

Traffic was heavier than normal on the side streets, but it didn’t seem to bother the three guys in the car.Besides, all of them were more engaged in arguing the merits of rap over rock, a conversation which quickly shifted to Mark’s inexplicable attraction to his older cousin Emily. It was good-natured ribbing, and had Mark not been more resilient he would have been resentful whenever his buddies brought the subject of Emily up, particularly at a time when Mark was winning an argument.
It was this desire to quit the debate that prompted Mark to look out the window and notice the gathering congregating at the underpass.Seth drove the car toward the gathering but would turn in another block en route to the record store.Piqued by the curiosity, Mark asked Seth to stop the car so that he could get a better look.
“We can’t stop here,” he responded, “too much traffic.”
“Then why don’t we park?” asked Mark, “like right there.”
Mark pointed to an imaginary spot that in just a few moments would become vacant from the departure of another parked car.
“Why do you want to stop?” Seth asked.
“I wanna see this.” Mark insisted and looked at his two skeptical friends. “We got time, the record shop’s still gonna be there.We’re in no hurry.”
Seth pulled the car into the spot and turned off the car.Mark bounded out from the back seat first and walked hurriedly toward the gathering, his two friends trailed a distance behind him.As he reached an elevated vantage point, he peered over the heads of the hundred or so people gathered at the underpass.There he saw the object of their interest. It was, by all appearances, a nondescript discoloring on the wall surrounded by candles and colorful tributes carefully arranged, so that anyone seeing would know that this is the object of attention.
He had no idea why the gathering had assembled, so he ventured into the crowd, many curious like himself.As he approached, he sensed an ethereal coolness that he could have easily mistaken for the damp wind currents of the underpass.After all, though he was easy-going and affable, he had grown to be one of the more cynical of his group of friends that was, in itself considered a cynical crowd. Still, he moved even closer, drawn by the spectacle. The makeshift tribute candles and those on their knees praying the rosary confirmed that it was a religious sighting, and soon he focused on the object.
Immediately he was entranced by the simplicity of its design and how by the power of suggestion the faithful could be prompted to kneel at the imaginary alter.Himself not a religious guy, his first reaction was disdain for those who gave themselves so willingly to this apparition.After all, he was enlightened, pretty-well educated and had a firm grasp on reality.His buddies gave him a playful poke on the shoulders, shaking him out of his contemplation.
“What’s going on?” Seth asked.
“Something that looks like the Virgin Mary on the wall,” he responded.“See?”
“Oh yeah.”
The three of them continued looking around, almost thinking an ice-cream vendor would come past and take advantage of the crowd.A few more minutes and Mark indicated that he’d seen enough, though in his mind he wanted to stay, to ask those why they believed so ardently. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to hold up the record store visit.
Within minutes the guys were back in the car and headed away, though the traffic intensified.Already Mark was plotting his return visit.
Two days later Mark returned by himself, though it had taken him two train transfers and waiting around for a bus, he didn’t seem to mind the effort. The image was unchanged, and the faithful sat, stood, prayed and quietly voiced their intentions, completely oblivious to Mark’s presence watching them.For the first time in his young life he wished for simplicity, for a secret desire to believe without doubt.He wanted to share in their straightforward ease of acceptance without the skeptical questionings that inhabited his mind.

Until that time came, if it would ever come, he would content himself with enjoying the pageantry of life that paraded before him.He smiled, taking solace in his gift of keen observation.This occasion would be recorded with great detail in the archives of his brain, stored for another time.

She heard about it on the news, but the idea of drawing it didn’t come to a realization until Sunday Mass four days later.It was during the homily, or was it during the apostle’s creed?She wasn’t sure, but looking up at the gilded icons ornamenting the sanctuary ceiling, she struck upon the inspiration to sketch the image of the newest Virgin Mary.
She decided to keep it simple; maybe just charcoal and paper.She was rather proud of herself, finding a subject through an organic process.And the timing couldn’t have been better, since for the last few months she had taken to sketching penciled portraits of Vince, and nothing of what she had drawn satisfied her. She pored over each work, hoping to capture in art what it was that attracted her to him, but to no avail.In frustration, she cut her lovely chestnut hair short and uneven in a Van Gogh-like gesture that she regretted moments after she did it.The Mary project would be her redemption.
The first attempt met with futility, since she foolishly choose a Saturday morning to try and set up her easel 20 feet from the image.The onlookers and other visitors didn’t cooperate with her plans. She never had a clear line of sight for more than a few seconds and couldn’t even draw the most rudimentary of sketches.She tried clearing her throat to signal her presence, but though she got a few looks and even some smiles, the picket-fence of people between her and the Virgin Mary was too much.She had to abandon the drawing for that day.

Still, Moira was nothing if not determined.At midweek she cut her afternoon classes and drove into the city, knowing that only a fraction of the numbers from Saturday would be there.She would have all the time she needed.Once again she set up her easel, but this time the afternoon light didn’t illuminate the wall as well as it did in the morning.No matter how she changed her vantage point, the Virgin Mary didn’t appear as anything more than a curved smear on the cement.She growled in frustration, almost stupefied by the three women and two men who kneeled before the image and kept vigil.“How can you pray to what you can’t see?” she thought, and wished that maybe telepathically they could sense her question.

She considered tabling the project, thinking that maybe she was a little too ambitious with the Virgin Mary thing.But the desire was still there, even a week later when she was on her way to the oral surgeon for a consultation.She deliberated altered her drive, in no hurry whatsoever to find out how many teeth she was going to have pulled.Knowing she was within a half mile of the Virgin Mary, she wheeled around to the underpass just to take a look.Since it was nearly noon, the area surrounding the image was naturally brighter, particularly on this clear sunny day.Upon seeing the image in its luminescence, Moira scrambled the mess of books, papers and photos that inhabited her back seat.In the floorboard lay an old easel and, by good fortune, charcoal pencils rolling around as well.

She seized the opportunity, positioning herself fifteen feet from the object.With methodical dexterity and patient faith, she crafted her Virgin Mary.She took liberties with the thickness of the outline and degrees of curvature, and though she didn’t include the nondescript stains around the image, the finished work was simple and elegant.It reflected the quiet dignity that she sought, an image that elevated a humble figure to a noble countenance.

Two of the believers, who had finished their vigil, walked toward her and acknowledged her drawing with nodding appreciation.Moira didn’t feel she needed their approval, but it felt as though maybe, just maybe, they were agents of Mary herself.She closed the easel, looked at the Mary on the wall, and winked in satisfaction.So what if she was 45 minutes late to an appointment, she had captured the elusive image.

When her mother heard of the Virgin Mary sighting, Brigitta was overcome with dread.Her mother changed her schedule and feverishly moved about the house collecting candles and laminated cards.Brigitta knew this only meant one thing, and that was her mother would take up the vigil at the salt stain.But the worst of it was that her mother would insist that Brigitta come along, and there was no telling how long the vigil would last – a couple of hours, three or four hours, maybe many hours over several days.
The distant between Brigitta and her mother had grown uncomfortably wide over the last year.Brigitta figured this was for two reasons.First, her father left for a construction job in California.At least, that’s what her mom told her and her younger sister.But Brigitta knew better.She had come to the age of painful awareness.Her mom would have rather cut her own wrist than separate the family. No, her father escaped to California, away from the confinement of family and momma’s rules.With her father gone, her mother turned her control and manipulation on Brigitta.Brigitta reacted in the only way she knew how, by open rebellion.Second, her father’s absence prompted her mother’s retreat into the church, and particularly into the influence of Father Garcia.In Brigitta’s eyes, the father was a good person, but he was of the old faith and the old church. Momma, always devout, had taken on a new zeal of religious faith, and one that was so completely out of touch with Brigitta’s world.
Brigitta was an effortless kind of pretty, and she had showed signs of emerging womanhood that troubled her mother.Brigitta didn’t seek attention, but the boys noticed her.And despite her mother’s attempt to insist on less revealing clothes, Brigitta wore what her friends wore, of course she changed outfits when she was a safe distance away from her mother.
But it wasn’t just clothes, it was everything.She and her mother didn’t see eye to eye on anything. Brigitta wasn’t the confrontational type, so she often bore her mother’s wrath bravely in the hopes that her mother would eventually leave her alone.Now she was wondering how to bear this inevitable Virgin Mary visit.
The first time was, just as she had suspected, excruciating.Her mother kneeled just behind the police tape, lit the glass enclosed candle, and recited the rosary.At her mother’s insistence, she was on her knees next to her. Yet, the indignation of being around the religious freaks filled her with an intense anger.She slipped back from her mother, to a point several yards behind her lest she be accused of disobeying and abandoning her.On top of everything else, it was an unusually cold day for April.While her mother counted rosary beads, Brigitta counted the number of times her teeth chattered.Each chatter brought a new intensity of anger toward her mother.
Finally, an hour and a half after they first knelt, her mother gave the sign of the crucifix and stood up.She walked up to her mother, hoping she would notice the shivering.However, her mother didn’t seem to notice.Instead, she gave her daughter a calming smile.
“Let’s go home, mi’jita,” was all she said.
The second time was long, boring and almost as annoying as the first time.Again, Brigitta was several yards behind her mother.Though this time, the animosity was absent.While her mother prayed, Brigitta gave thought to her father, and how much she was like him in disposition and temperament.Did her mother see that?Does her mother resent her for that?She knew though, that unlike her father, she had ambition, and that for all her faults, her mother tried surrounding her with accomplished people.She wondered where she would be in a few years and if her mother would be part of her life.
On the way back home, her mother stopped at a woman’s clothing store.Reluctantly, Brigitta went in with her.To her surprise, her mother asked her if she wanted to try on some outfits.Brigitta declined, thinking that her mother was again imposing her austerity.
“Brigitta, try on what you want,” she said.
She looked through the fixtures and picked out clothes that she figured her mother would approve.Then she tried then on and walked back over to her.
“Do you really like that?” she asked.
“Then why did you get them?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know,” Brigitta responded, though she did know and didn’t want a fight.
“Go try on what you want,” her mother suggested.
Brigitta went back and prudently selected fashionable yet safe clothes – a cami top that wasn’t as tight as she would have liked and pants with amedium waist that tapered down to the ankle.She made sure that no midsection would show.
“I like it.That looks nice.You look nice,” her mother affirmed.Her mother hadn’t told her she looked nice since she wore her confirmation dress.
With that they made their purchases and drove home.Brigitta wasn’t sure, but she thought that maybe her mother was rewarding her for enduring the vigil.
It was two more occasions with the Virgin Mary that Brigitta realized her mother’s demeanor had changed.It wasn’t just that her mother smiled and laughed like she hadn’t done in a long time, she was actually a tolerable presence.In her mind, Brigitta felt that the time at the underpass didn’t do anything but give her a chance to think.Otherwise, it was kind of a waste of time.She was a little nervous that her friends would find out and label her a Jesus-freak.On the other hand, she felt as though her mother needed her to be there, and for whatever it was worth, it gave her purpose.
Brigitta came home after school one day just as her mother was on her way out the door. In her mother’s hands were a candle.
“Brigitta, take care of your sister when she comes home later,” her mother requested.
“Are you going to pray?”
“Yes, I’m going out there,” her mother responded.
Brigitta looked at her mother for a moment, “Can I come with you?”
“Only if you want to.”

“Yes, I do,” and Brigitta grabbed her jacket and followed her mother to the car.

Since Christmas vacation, Trevor walked around in something akin to a daze.He had soaked up as much of the Christmas spirit as possible, and just because the season had passed, he felt obliged to hold on to the elation and proclamations of goodwill.He was usually the one whistling Christmas tunes well into February, as also the kid who insisted that Christmas didn’t end until January 6.
His Christmas dream usually held up until Valentine’s day, when he would sink into the doldrums of winter.Then, he would sustain himself with diligence, diving headfirst into schoolwork, trying to keep himself occupied.Once the warm breezes of spring filled the air, he would resume a pattern of normalcy and rejoin the world of the conventional.
But this year fate intervened, and it happened on a sunny April Friday afternoon as he and his dad headed up to Wisconsin.The car broke down, or rather, the timing belt broke, while they were on the Kennedy Expressway.It was their good fortune that the car drifted slowly onto the shoulder and out of harm’s way.As his dad called for help, Trevor walked along the shoulder until he spotted a gathering near the overpass below.He looked at his dad, who was still on the phone, and then walked away from the car.
As he drew closer, he caught sight of the Virgin Mary.He was transfixed almost immediately. He was aware of no one or nothing around him. The image spoke to him in an inaudible language. It was as though the fulfillment he sought at Christmas had come back to him, but this was more than elation and goodwill, it was a release from all anxieties, an ecstasy that is gentle in nature.And all of this came from the eye contact he made with the Virgin Mary.

He was remise to try and explain it, let alone understand what had happened.All he knew is that he didn’t want to let go of what he felt.He looked around at some of the others, and he saw in their faces a contentment that defied logic and reason.He shared a type of kinship with them.

Slowly, he came back to the realization of where he was, and decided to go back up to the expressway.He was sure that his dad was probably still on the phone, but he knew that it was time to go.He resolved to come back and see the vision again.Perhaps, he hoped, he could recapture the sensation, the fullness that he felt in his heart.He wasn’t sure when, but he resolved to return.

CHICAGO, May 7 – A mark on a tunnel wall in Chicago that attracted hundreds of pilgrims who believed it to be an image of the Virgin Mary has been painted over. Local authorities covered the shape in brown paint, after it was defaced with the words "big lie". Hector Concepcion, 37, was arrested on suspicion of writing the graffiti. While some people who visited the site claimed to feel a spiritual experience, the more skeptical said the image on the wall was merely a salt stain.

Mr. Concepcion was charged with criminal damage to state-supported property.

The bell rang signaling the first class of the day.The students settled in their seats as the course lesson was about to begin.But this day, which should have been like any other day, was characterized by an imperceptible absence.Something that may or may not have been there was gone. And in each of the four rows of desks there sat a student – one who hoped to see again life’s rich pageant, one who created art in the image of the divine, one who became a grateful daughter, and one, who by looking out the classroom window, began a journey to see his next vision.

Submitted: June 03, 2008

© Copyright 2021 journeytoCeylon. All rights reserved.

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