We all have something to say

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Can one person make a difference? Is it possible for someone who isn’t wealthy or powerful or famous to do something so amazing it touches people?

Those are questions I ask and I’m betting others do too. Maybe it’s because we want to believe we have something to give, some purpose to being here.

Recently two things answered a resounding “yes” to both questions. The first came in the form of a book, which I discovered because of the Montgomery Ballet’s spring performance. My husband, daughter and I went as much to hear Beth Nielsen Chapman sing as we did to see the dancers. Both were amazing.

After the program, we had an opportunity to meet Ms. Chapman. During a question-and-answer session she talked about creativity and recommended, “If You Want to Write,” by Brenda Ueland. She said the book was about finding whatever it is we have a gift for creating, be it a novel, or a song or a loaf of bread.

I bought the book and it inspires readers to find that thing that makes life worth living and then do it with all their hearts. The author said people who do that lift up the world just by being in it. I liked that idea, but reading about finding your gift is one thing; seeing an example of it is another.

That came when I tuned in to “A Man Named Pearl” on HGTV. I’d seen the show advertised and since it was about gardening, which I enjoy, I wanted to watch.

What I didn’t know was that the program was about much more than gardening. It was the story of a man living the answer to those questions about whether or not one person makes life better.

For an hour I sat transfixed as I heard the story of Pearl Fryer, a black man living in a small town in South Carolina. Pearl is not a captain of industry, not an investment banker, a politician, a scientist, a renowned physician, an author, movie star, famous musician — not any of the titles usually listed as important and successful. He never even studied horticulture, something he said worked to his advantage because he does things with plants experts say are impossible.

No, he’s the son of a sharecropper. Until he retired, Pearl worked 12-hour shifts, four days on, four days off, in a factory that makes cans.

That was how he made his living not how he made his life. No, Pearl has a gift for creating art from living things and his three-acre garden not only draws crowds to see it but also touches their souls.

At first, Pearl wanted to win a “Yard of the Month” award from the garden club, something a black person in his rural town had not done. So with plants a nursery discarded and allowed him to rescue, he started his masterpiece, breathing life back into them and then shaping them into living works of art, discovering along the way his gift to the world.

Word about his topiaries spread. People came to see the wonders they heard about. Then the New York Times came and then CBS’s 60 Minutes.

Pearl Fryer put his town on the map, bringing attention it desperately needed. However, neither fame nor wealth was Pearl’s goal. No, he just wanted to create something that made people feel good.

Pearl’s eyes twinkled as he talked about his desire to share love, peace and goodwill. People who visit his garden, which he offers to the public free of charge, talked about that sense of peace among the trees, the presence of something holy.

As the program ended, I thought about those questions I ask about life and its purpose. Perhaps the answer lies in discovering what Pearl knows, that, as Ueland writes in her book, “ … everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.”