The 1979 film Being There starred Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener, a simple-minded man, and an excellent gardener. Outside the garden, he learned everything he knew by watching TV. “I like to watch” was a repeated theme. The morning the film opens, he learns from the housekeeper Louise that The Old Man has died. We don’t know if Chance is related to The Old Man, but he wears The Old Man’s suits and looks quite dapper.
Attorneys for the estate come to the house later that day and discover Chance. There is no record of anyone else living in the house. They tell Chance that he must leave. For the first time in his life, he steps outside the turn-of-the-century townhouse and garden in Washington, D.C.
Through a series of events, he winds up in the home of a very wealthy and politically connected man, Ben Rand. Ben is friends with the President of the United States, and Chance, who has become Chauncey Gardner, is invited to meet the President. The President asks Ben for advice about his speech on the economy, and then asks Chauncey his opinion.
Simple-minded Chauncey replies with his knowledge of gardening. “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well, and all will be well, in the garden… In a garden, growth has its season. First come spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter, and then we get spring and summer again… There will be growth in the spring.”
Ben, the President, and those in Washington power circles think he is brilliant. Chauncey merely reflects what people want to see.
The seasons of the garden reflect the seasons of our lives. Gardeners, all of us, really, welcome the warmth, light and new growth in the spring. We marvel over the sprouting of seeds, renewed life, and births. We rejoice when young adults link their lives together, and celebrate the fruits and vegetables of our labor in the summer and fall.
And then there are the dark days of winter. The garden goes to sleep. While winter is a part of the natural life cycle, we loathe recognizing the shorter, colder days of our own lives.
There’s a proverb – Proverb 22:3 – “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Our American sage Benjamin Franklin said, “The only inevitabilities in life are death and taxes.”
We’re only slightly more inclined to deal with our taxes than our deaths, because we are still around to pay the consequences if we don’t pay our taxes. But death – less than one-third of American adults address end-of-life issues by preparing advance medical healthcare directives, creating wills or trusts, and pre-planning their funerals.
Why is this? You can chalk it up to Dr. Ernest Becker’s Terror Management Theory, spelled out in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death. (Read more about Mortality Salience and end-of-life planning.) In short, it takes good self-awareness and self-esteem to even consider the conversation about end-of-life issues!
Success guru Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for The Soul book series, is fond of quoting a study that says two-thirds of adults have low self-esteem. It’s that one-third of the population that has high self-esteem that is out there doing end-of-life planning.
One funeral director said, “Would you put your children in charge of planning your vacation?” No? So why would you put them in charge of planning your big bon voyage party?
Think about what you might want to say to your loved ones and start a conversation today. Remember – talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead.