Gurdjieff International Review

Twelve Dollars

Suddenly It Was Important to Earn Some Money

By James Opie

The executive producer of Meetings with Remarkable Men, Michael Currer-Briggs, said that the film was financed largely by “America.” Being more precise, he said that it was funded primarily through the efforts of Lord Pentland, who encouraged individuals and groups throughout North America to contribute money to the film project.

Timely help that my partner and I had rendered in Afghanistan did not go unnoticed by Lord Pentland. From that point forward, he always welcomed me to his office when I was in New York on rug business. He also made room for me in evening meetings and weekend work with his groups, organized in a former firehouse outside of Manhattan. Thus it was that, living in Oregon, away from Lord Pentland’s direct influence, I found myself in contact with him two or three times a year during a period of about five years, until his death in 1984.

During a conversation in the spring of 1980 he suggested an assignment: could I, he asked, work with other men in the Aurora groups to earn money for another Movements film that Madame de Salzmann was planning? Feeling complimented by this gesture, I immediately assented.

What seemed easy in New York in the spring was not so simple back home. One factor was that Lord Pentland was not well known within our groups and his wishes carried limited weight there. I was essentially on my own in carrying out this promise. Four months, six, then eight months went by, during which I accomplished nothing in line with his suggestion. Although I had visited him in New York once during this period, neither of us said anything about this task. By December of that year I had yet to earn a single cent.

Early in January of 1981 my business took me again to New York and I suddenly remember this assignment. I wrote to Lord Pentland, indicating that he would hear from me by phone after I arrived, so that we could make an appointment.

Suddenly it was important to earn some money.

A week or so before my trip east, my eye fell on several stacks of calendars decorated with Oriental rugs and the thought occurred that these might be converted into cash for this project. It was too late to engage with other men, as I had promised, but it still seemed possible to accomplish something alone. There were roughly one hundred of these calendars. With luck, I might be able to come up with a respectable sum, perhaps approaching five hundred dollars.

Given one factor and another—“forgetting” prominent among them—by the time of my trip only a few calendars had been sold, netting a total of precisely twelve dollars in profit. Recognizing that this sum was worse than nothing, I was confused about what to do. Nonetheless, I kept these same twelve dollars in an envelope until the day of my trip.

While in the air on the way to New York a debate took place within me: whether or not to hand this money, these twelve dollars, to Lord Pentland or not. The temptation arose to augment the amount by simply writing a business check. While this would surely make me look better, the falseness of this gesture was obvious. Yet, to hand him twelve dollars, the money I had actually earned, bordered on an offense. Thoughts like these went round and round.

By the time I reached New York the decision was made: I would simply hand the envelop containing the money—two five dollar bills and two singles—to Lord Pentland and experience whatever was to be experienced at that moment.

In New York and in his office I waited until the end of our conversation to raise this subject. Taking the envelope from a jacket pocket, I reminded him of the project he had suggested and extended the envelope in his direction. Lord Pentland surprised me by waving the envelope away with a gesture.

“We won’t get into this now,” he said. “Can you come to my apartment for tea at 4:00 this afternoon?” Surprised, I readily accepted his invitation.

At 4:00 sharp I was at his door, struggling with the usual factors of “considering,” mixed with a familiar eagerness. He welcomed me and soon prepared tea. He asked about Mrs. Staveley, the leader of our groups in Aurora, and spoke appreciatively about her, as he always did, and about several projects in which they shared an interest. Since he was not bringing up the subject of money I had to wait for an opening.

“This morning I reminded you of a task you suggested many months ago: to work with some men in our groups and make some money for a project of Madame de Salzmann’s. I have the results of my efforts in this envelope and want to give it to you.”

He received the envelope and, without opening it, wordlessly got up from his chair and went into another room of his apartment. I sat there, stewing in my own juices, completely in the dark about how he would feel and what he might say to me. He was gone for what felt like a very long time, though it was probably only about five minutes. During that time many thoughts came and went. At moments I worked to find a grounding point in bodily sensations. At last, he returned and sat down near me again, pulling his chair a few inches closer.

What he said to me comprised two extremely familiar words, but ones that I had never heard spoken in such a tone of voice. Looking directly at me with an expression of kindness, he said, “Thank you.” The words were enveloped in rich tonalities that washed through me, carrying away some of the fear that so often interfered with the experience of being here, in his company.

Copyright © 2005 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 2005 Issue, Vol. IX (1)
Revision: December 1, 2005