Story of Chance Gardener

I learned this story when reading John Bogle’s Common Sense On Mutual Funds a few years ago. I liked it and have read it many times since. It was quoted from Jerzy Kosinski’s 1970 novel Being There. A film based on the book was made in 1979.

Story of Chance Gardener

Chance is a man who has grown to middle age living in a solitary room in a rich man’s mansion, bereft of contact with other human beings. He has two all- consuming interests: watching television and tending the garden outside his room. When the mansion’s owner dies, Chance wanders out on his first foray into the world. He is hit by the limousine of a powerful industrialist who is an adviser to the President. When he is rushed to the industrialist’s estate for medical care, he identifies himself only as “Chance the gardener.” In the confusion, his name quickly becomes “Chauncey Gardiner.”

 When the President visits the industrialist, the recuperating Chance sits in on the meeting. The economy is slumping; America’s blue-chip corporations are under stress; the stock market is crashing. Unexpectedly, Chance is asked for his advice:

Chance shrank. He felt the roots of his thoughts had been suddenly yanked out of their wet earth and thrust, tangled, into the unfriendly air. He stared at the carpet. Finally, he spoke: “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.” 

He slowly raises his eyes, and sees that the President seems quietly pleased –indeed, delighted—by his response. 

“l must admit, Mr. Gardiner, that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements l‘ve heard in a very, very long time. Many of us forget that nature and society are one. Like nature, our economic system remains, in the long run, stable and rational, and that’s why we must not fear to be at its mercy. . . . We welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, yet we are upset by the seasons of our economy! How foolish of us.”