Always on long plane trips I write poems. On my flight to Puerto Rico I was deeply absorbed in writing poems for Silence Speaks. A very old lady was sitting next to me. After two hours she had to get up. She said, “Sorry to bother you.” So I smiled at her and got up.
When she came back, again she said, “Sorry to bother you.” Then in very poor broken English she started talking to me. She said she was three or four years old when she came to this country. Now she lives in Douglaston.
I said, “Our best tennis players come from there.” She didn’t understand what tennis is. She said she has been in America for 74 years, yet still she can barely understand English.
She was born in Italy. I said, “I have been in Italy at least six times. I met with the Pope.” She couldn’t understand the word ‘Rome’. Then when I said ‘Roma’, she understood.
An American lady sitting next to us said, “He has met with the Pope.” The old lady didn’t believe it. The American lady said, “In this world there are some people who will believe anything you say, and there are some people who won’t believe you even after you do something right in front of their eyes.” This is her philosophy. I should have shown her my Luminaries booklet.
Then the plane descended. My carry-on bag was so heavy because it was filled with weights and books. Also I had bought some candies. Because my bag was so heavy, I wanted everybody else to leave the plane first. I stood up to let the old Italian lady go by, but she didn’t want to go. She wanted to wait.
It was so difficult for me to take my bag. I couldn’t carry it in one hand; I had to keep it on my shoulder. The old lady was laughing at me in a sarcastic manner, saying, “Great man, great man!” She had a cruel nature. There are people like that on earth. Seventy years in America and she doesn’t have to learn English! My neighbour, Mr. Cino, was Italian, but he could speak and understand English much better than this old lady.
— 26 January 1984