BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF
ONE OF THE pleasures and challenges of "concierge duty" was a competition among all the children -- this duty was almost exclusively the work of the children -- to be sufficiently alert on this job to have the gates, through which the automobiles had to pass, opened in time for Mr. Gurdjieff to drive through them without having to stop his car and blow the horn as a signal to the gatekeeper.
One difficulty with this was that the entrance to the Prieure was at the foot of a long hill which descended from the railway station; the streetcar to Samois also passed directly in front of the gate where the highway made a wide turn in the direction of Samois, away from the Prieure. Frequently the noise of the "tramway" obscured the sound of cars coming down the hill, and interfered with our game. Also, once Mr. Gurdjieff became aware of the competition, he would usually coast down the hill so that we would not be aided by the sound of the motor.
It was mostly thanks to Philos, the dog, who often followed me around during Mr. Gurdjieff's absences, that I was usually able to get the gates opened in time for him to sail through them, a big smile on his face. By watching Philos, whose ears would prick up at the sound of any passing car, but who would jump to his feet at the sound of Mr. Gurdjieff's car, I was almost always successful.
Amused by this game of ours, Mr. Gurdjieff once asked me how it was that I was able to, practically unfailingly, have the gates open in time, and I told him about Philos. He laughed and then said that this was a very good example of cooperation. "Show that man have much to learn, and can learn from many unexpected places. Even dog can help. Man very weak, need help all time."
Late that summer, I was on concierge duty when Mr. Gurdjieff was to leave on a trip. For some reason, it was a particularly important departure, and everyone was gathered around his automobile when he was about ready to leave. I was among the leave-takers, and when he had finally started the motor of the car, I ran to the big gates to open them. In my haste, I stumbled and fell, and one of my knees hit the heavy iron catch, just above the level of the ground, which served to hold one of the gates open. It was rusty and, as I had fallen hard, it penetrated rather deeply. As Gurdjieff was about to drive through the gates, he looked at me, saw the blood running down my leg, stopped, and asked me what had happened. I told him and he told me to wash it off, which I did as soon as he had left.
By the middle of the afternoon -- he had left about noon -- my leg was very painful, my knee swollen, and I had to stop work. The work I was assigned to that afternoon was cleaning the parquet floors of the salons, which meant scraping the floors with heavy steel wool to remove the old wax and accumulated dirt ; this was done by standing on the steel wool and pushing it back and forth, with the grain of the wood, with one's foot.
By evening, my knee had swollen alamlingly, and I was not well enou,gh to eat dinner. I was put to bed and various treatments began. Different people had different ideas about the treatments, but it was decided that the knee was badly infected and that the proper remedy was a hot onion poultice. Baked or perhaps boiled onions were placed on the open wound, which was then wrapped in heavy, transparent oiled cloth, and then wrapped again with a bandage. The purpose, of course, was to draw the poison out of the infected knee.
Although I received constant attention and the best of care -- there was a resident doctor at the Prieure who had supervised the treatments given me -- my leg did not improve. By the following day it was enormous and small boils began to appear on my body, extending from well below my knee almost to my waist. I was delirious all day, coming out of my delirium occasionally when additional and more frequent poultices were applied. But nothing seemed to help.
It was late that afternoon when Gurdjieff returned from his trip. Some time after his arrival, when he inquired about me, he was told about my condition and he came to see me in my room. He removed the bandage and poultice and sent someone to the local pharmacy at once. They brought back a remedy, then called "Ouata-plasme", apparently also some form of poultice, and Gurdjieff had them build a fire in the stove in my room on which he could boil water. When the water was boiling, he dipped a small square of this impregnated cotton into the water, and then applied it immediately to the affected knee, again wrapping it in the oiled cloth and a bandage. He insisted that it be applied at once, directly from the boiling water, and I remember these applications as being excruciatingly painful. Instructions were given to someone to stay the night in my room and to apply these new poultices every four hours or so; which was done.
By the following afternoon, I was much better, and the poultices, when removed, were black with gelatinous, infected matter. That evening, Mr. Gurdjieff came to visit me again. As it was a Saturday and there was. to be a demonstration in the study-house, he insisted that I should attend along with all the others, and had his nephew carry me there and back "piggy-back". When we arrived at the study-house, he placed me in the small cubicle, where I sat behind him, during the demonstration. When it was over, I was carried back to my room. There was nothing very spectacular about the treatment or the cure, but Gurdjieff had something to say to me about it when I was on my feet again.
He asked to look at my leg, on which I was still wearing a small bandage, and when he had pronounced it cured, he asked me if I remembered what he had said about Philos helping me to identify his car when he arrived at the Prieure gates. I said that I did, of course, and he said that these two things -- the help of the dog, and the infection in my knee -- had one thing in common. They were proof, of a kind, of man's dependence on other creatures. "To dog, you owe thanks, because he help you with small thing; to me you owe more than this, perhaps owe life to me. They try when I not here, even doctor try, fix your leg, but only get worse. When I come, I fix leg, because only I know about this new medicine which have in France now. I know this because I interested in everything, because necessary know all things for self in life. Just because I know this thing, and because I come back in time, you now well. You all right."
I said that I realized this and I thanked him for what he had done. He smiled, indulgently, and said that it was impossible to thank him for what he had done for me. "Cannot give thanks for life, not possible give enough thanks; also perhaps will be times when you wish I not save life. You young now, you glad not die -- this serious thing, because illness like you have very dangerous, can even kill. But when you grow, you not always like life, and maybe you not thank me, but make curse on me because I not let die. So do not thank now."
He went on, then, to say that life was a "two-edged sword. In your country, you think life is only for pleasure. You have saying in your country: 'pursuit of happiness', and this saying show that people not understand life. Happiness is nothing, is only other side of unhappiness. But in your country, in most of world now, people only want happiness. Other things also important: suffering important because is also part of life, necessary part. Without suffering man cannot grow, but when you suffer, you think only of self, you feel sorry for self, wish not to suffer because this make you feel not comfortable, make you wish escape from thing that make you feel bad. When man suffer, he feel only self-pity. Not so if real man. Real man also sometimes feel happiness, real happiness; but when he also feel real suffering, he not try to stop this thing in self. He accept this because he know is proper to man. Must suffer to know truth about self; must learn suffer with will. When suffering come to man must make intentional suffering, must feel with all being; must wish with such suffering that it will help make conscious; help to understand.
"You have only physical suffering, suffering of body because of pain in leg. This suffering also help if you know how to use for self. But this is suffering like animal, not important suffering. With other suffering, suffering in all self, is possibility understand that all people suffer this way, is possibility also understand how depend on Nature, on other people, on everything, for help in life. Cannot live life alone. Aloneness -- not loneliness, which is bad thing -- but aloneness can be good thing for man, very necessary for life, but also necessary learn not live alone because real life depend on other human being and not just on self. Now, you still boy, cannot understand what I talk -- but remember this thing; remember for time when you not thank me because I save life."