Letter: New Milford resident says people may be different, but 'we can...respect one another'

To the Editor:

I decorated a retaining wall with a Muslim motif in black and white. I took two 10-inch squares, overlapped them, and twisted them into a 45-degree angle to form a star.

Each panel was stenciled and outlined with a white pencil on the painted black cement surface to form each star, gave the interior one coat of white paint, waited a day and gave it a second coat.

It took me almost three weeks to do two-thirds of the wall, weather permitting.

This special wall does not block anyone from coming in, but one that reminds me of my neighbor and the friendship we shared.

My neighbor and I did not speak the same language. Isa, my neighbor, lived with his wife and his son’s family not too far from me.

He only came a few years ago from Albania, a country in turmoil and war.

I first saw him walking down the road and I waved, and he waved back to me. This went on for a long time. Then, we went from a wave to saying “hello” when we saw each other outside.

Again, this went on for some time.

I mentioned my name, George, and from that time on, he said, “Hello, Mr. George.” And, like Tarzan, I pointed to myself and said his name.

Eventually, he invited me into his home and I met his wife. She made coffee and we sat in the living room.

All this time I spoke, he never responded, using hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate.

I was invited two more times for coffee and some advice about insects getting into the house. I gave him some advice by showing him how I got rid of the ants coming into my house.

One winter came and went and I did not see him or his wife.

Then, one spring day I asked his wife, who loved walking down the road past my house, “How is your husband?”

She gave me a very sad look, and I saw in her eyes that she was fighting back tears.

It was then that it sank in, that he had passed away. I was heartbroken.

Here it is two years later, and I still miss seeing him on the road.

His wife still passes by my house and I always say “Hello,” and she nods her head in response.

I wanted to honor our friendship and was inspired by my daughter and the design she put up in her dorm quad.

My daughter spent one high school year abroad in Egypt and continued her education getting an engineering degree from MIT and then studied Arabic at Harvard University. She painted her dorm room with a Muslim-Christian motif, which influenced the design I painted on the retaining wall.

I found that the eight-point star, known as Rub el Hizb, pattern was from the 11th century Andalusain, Spain. When the star is repeated in a grid, the negative space forms crosses.

Taken as a whole, the pattern can be interpreted as a star from Islam.

Isa was Muslim and this mural was something he would have enjoyed. This mural is a tribute to our two faiths, he being Muslim and me being Christian.

I invited his son to see the wall. He was impressed.

I moved from New York City to New Milford and have come to appreciate the multicultural community in which I live.

Whenever I see the wall, it will remind me that it does not take much effort to “wave a hand” or say “hello” to someone, and then find out you come from two different cultures, faiths, and diverse in color, gender, and that we can be friends and respect one another.

George Ogno

New Milford