Chance was a gardener. He had been one for as long as he could remember, since he was six years old and the old man took him into his home and told him that was his job. The years went by. Chance gardened and watched TV in his spare hours. He never learned to read; everything he learned was from the television set and the garden.
But then the old man died and the executors of the estate arrived. There was no record of Chance working there, no record at all of Chance’s existence. He was told to vacate the premises by noon. So he found a suitcase in the attic and some of the old man’s clothes which were of good quality and fit him perfectly.
On this day, his first outside the walled garden, Chance was hit by a limousine as he crossed the street. His leg was mildly injured. The limousine occupant was a wealthy woman, married to a powerful financier. She insisted on bringing him to her home for care. There he met her powerful but dying husband. When asked his name, Chance replied Chance the Gardener. The woman thought he said, Chauncey Gardiner. So that was who he became. She also assumed from his clothes that he was of her class. His years of watching TV served Chance well, as he acted out the mannerisms he had observed on TV.
The financier was so powerful that the president stopped by to pay his respects. He asked Chance what he thought of recent political happenings. Chance thought for a while and then answered slowly and deliberately with what he knew to be true.
“In a garden,” he said, “growth has its season. There are spring and summer, but there are also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well.”
Amazingly the financer and the president were wildly impressed by his refreshing and optimistic statement. So began Chance the Gardener’s ride as the darling of the intellectuals. He may have been a few bricks short of a full load but the movers and shakers in the world of politics and media loved him.
A short allegorical satire of our shallow world, Being There rings as surprisingly true today as it did in 1970 when it first came into print. A movie was made in 1979 staring Peter Sellers as Chance and Shirley MacLaine as the wealthy woman who rescued him from the street.
Never underestimate the power of gardening. It allowed Chance to fool important people for at least a week. But it left his little brain bewildered. At a party where big wigs were discussing the possibility of running him for vice president, Chance stepped out into the garden.
“Taut branches laden with fresh shoots, slender stems with tiny sprouting buds shot upward. The garden lay calm, still sunk in repose. Wisps of clouds floated by and left the moon polished. Now and then, boughs rustled and gently shook off their drops of water. A breeze fell upon the foliage and nestled under the cover of its moist leaves. Not a thought lifted itself from Chance’s brain. Peace filled his chest.”