As someone who is professionally interested in language, I’m always on the look-out for ways to reconceive of or update old clichés. A common, and now much overused, cliché that I think could use a good revival is also the title of Tupac Shakur’s 1999 book of poetry: The Rose that Grew from Concrete. A rose from concrete is a direct descendent of the once popular (and sometimes still popular), “up by your bootstraps” theme. Recently, I was walking from my car to my office, and I wandered across a chance to update this oldie-but-goodie.
On my commute, I almost stepped on a sprout that was growing in the cracks of the pavement. This industrious little weed fought through the concrete, as weeds are wont to do, but it had also grown up through a piece of chewing gum that had been idly discarded to melt into the sidewalk crack. Lots of weeds grow out of the concrete cracks, no matter how successfully we think we’ve tamed nature with infrastructure, but to grow through gum seems to me a real accomplishment. Taking nutrients from the sticky, abandoned confection, this assiduously deciduous sproutling overcame all odds to rise out of the dirt, through the concrete, and finally—in what is sure to become a widely adopted analogy for succeeding against seemingly insurmountable odds—up from gum.