Writings by Roberta Chromey

About Roberta Chromey

Excerpt from the Sherborne memoir

Mrs. Popoff took her Work group to hear a talk at the legendary Gotham Book Mart. I could hear the floor boards creak as we filed in, squeezing through the narrow aisles. The smell of vintage wood and leather bindings permeated the space as we passed table after table haphazardly strewn with books. Jack mentioned he had stood next to Allen Ginsberg at a table nearby.

Two elderly ladies arrived just before the presentation started. Someone whispered, "That's Madame de Salzmann and Madame de Hartmann!" Both had worked in France with Mr. Gurdjieff years ago.

We took our seats towards the back of the room, filled nearly to capacity with people of every age, all with quiet, intent expressions. I later learned that many had come from the Gurdjieff Foundation to see what the speaker "was up to." I had heard that the Foundation thought of him as an unpredictable, unorthodox person, who was always trying something new.

With a purposeful gait, John G. Bennett entered. He was the tallest person I'd ever seen. His piercing eyes shot out from under bushy eyebrows with his untamed white hair above. With his houndstooth jacket, leather elbow patches, and proper pronunciation, he seemed very British to me.

Mr. Bennett spoke at length of a Basic Course. It was to be a ten-month program at the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherborne House, in Gloucestershire, England. Students would live and study together and practice the thematic technique throughout the day. The program would include practical work projects, as well as cosmology, psychology, and sacred dance classes.

Coming to this presentation as a new group member, I had assumed I was tagging along for the ride. But I was riveted by Mr. Bennett's warm, precise voice. He spoke slowly, searching inwardly for the right words with no sign of notes or memorization. He was talking to me as if he had found me out, and knew my unfolding thoughts.

"One must not underestimate the importance of true education, of learning that comes from within, and continues throughout a lifetime," said Mr. Bennett. He told us that students would work together to become more awake and develop the potential to become real human beings.

"Yes!" I shouted inside myself. "That's what I'm into. That's how learning should be." It was as if little electrical impulses were coursing through my body. The crowded room was stone silent except for Mr. Bennett's voice absorbing all the attention. Without thinking, I turned to Jack and whispered with total conviction, "We're going!"

This came to me clearly, like knowing I had to transfer to Livingston College where I met Jack. Excitement welled up in me. I was riding the crest of a wave headed for shore. With no thought for logistics —my parents, money—I knew in my soul that the two of us had to go on the Basic Course at Sherborne.

Mr. Bennett fielded questions, some sounding skeptical, some excited. He invited those interested to apply for the Basic Course. He paused for a long minute, pensive. Then he concluded softly, "Gurdjieff once said, no teacher is worth his salt until he's called a heretic by one hundred true believers." Lifting his head with the hint of a twinkle in his eye he looked out into the audience and proclaimed, "To Mr. Gurdjieff, the Arch-heretic!"

And just as he had entered, Mr. Bennett left the room with his long, sure stride.