In the classic film Being There, Peter Sellers plays "Chance," a feeble-minded, middle-aged gardener who lives in secluded ignorance in a Washington, D.C., mansion. His benefactor dresses him in fine suits, and his simple needs — food and television — are indulged. When his benefactor dies, Chance is evicted and wanders the streets in his fine suit. Through a series of comic mishaps, he is taken in by an elderly and influential political insider. Chance introduces himself as "Chance the gardener," but his new benefactor hears it as "Chauncey Gardner," and in short order, Chauncey becomes an unwitting political and business savant, a trusted adviser whose simple sentences are seen as deep metaphorical wisdom.
When Chauncey says, "In the spring there will be growth," there are nods of appreciation at his sagacity. He becomes something of a human fortune cookie. And as we know, fortune cookies, like generic horoscopes, can always be interpreted to suit the reader.
My personal fortune cookie arrived this morning, a 401(k) statement telling me my account had earned 47 percent interest over the past 12 months. I attribute this to a shrewd financial move on my part — ignoring it. In so doing, I followed the advice of Chauncey Gardner, who said: "In a garden, growth has its season ... as long as the roots are not severed, all is well, and all will be well in the garden."
In fact, the wisdom of Chauncey Gardner has never been more relevant, as this issue's cover story illustrates. Growth is everywhere this spring, as Memphians increasingly turn their energies to promoting "green" alternatives to long-held not-so-green practices by increasing recycling efforts, promoting locally grown food, building greenways, using more environmentally friendly fuels, and constructing LEED buildings.
And I see more and more people using cloth sacks for their groceries, which is not only environmentally smarter than using a zillion plastic bags, it's easier. There are those who deride this kind of behavior as "tree-hugging," an overreaction to mythical global warming. But whether or not you believe in climate change, conserving resources makes sense. It's not liberal or conservative. It's about creating a better place to live for our children and grandchildren.
Or as Chance the gardener said while gazing out the window during his first automobile ride: "This is just like television, only you can see much further."
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."