During the fall of 1954 we did not meet due to Einsteins poor health. He was told by his physician, Dr. Dean, not to see people and to reduce much of his activity. Einstein also ceased going to the Institute. As I heard later, at that time, in the late summer and the fall, his blood condition deteriorated and could not but cause concern. The medical findings were not known to the public, not even to acquaintances; in general there was always a desire to keep personal matters out of the public view. Thus, for instance, once during the period I describe in this book fire broke out in Einsteins house, an old frame structure with a porch, staircase and partitions, all well dried and a little rickety, which could easily be enveloped by fire. It was a case of faulty wiring. When the flames broke out, Einstein, the only man in the house, beat the fire out singlehandedly, first closing the windows to cut off the fire from inflow of oxygen. By the time the fire brigade arrived, the fire was already out. Such an event, if known to newsmen, would certainly have made the front page; but it was kept secret, and the fire department cooperated. The house was rewired.
The gravity of Einsteins sickness was an equally well-kept secret. His mind was inquisitive, but he was deprived of exchange of thoughts. Later I was told that he repeatedly asked to see me; Miss Dukas, however, followed the doctors orders and kept Einstein in isolation from all but his closest circle. To this circle belonged Gina Plungian, mentioned on an earlier page, the ebullient, warm, outgoing admirer of Einstein, who became like a member of his little household, almost like a fixture in the house. For seven years she sculpted Einsteins head, sitting as quietly as possible in his study while he worked, not saying a word in order not to disturb his thoughts, though this must have been a great privation to her, a great talker and an interested listener to the personal matters of her acquaintances. Einstein and others of his household used to call her, though not to her face, Penelope, because she used to spoil the likeness she had already attained in clay, like the mythological figure who used to unravel during the night the knitting she had done during the day in order to prolong the processor did it only seem that way? Whatever were Ginas abilitites as a sculptor, she tried not to disturb, and all she asked was to sit quietly in some corner when Einstein worked. Some time earlier she and her family had moved away to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where her husband, a chemical engineer, obtained a position; yet Gina managed to come back, by plane or by bus, once in a while, whether the while was a month or a week. She would spend the night at our place, and the day at Einsteins. During the fall of 1954 I asked her to carry a letter to Mercer Street and bring back a reply. Giving her the letter to bring to Einstein, I added a little note for her to read to him.
Knowing that he was still weak and not yet recovered from his severe anemia, I felt that I had to add a human touch to my unbending stand in the problem we discussed. The note read:
It is from the book of Genesis, from the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel; Jacob rose that night, on his return to the land of his birth, passed over the ford of the Yabbok, and was alone in the dark of the Canaanite night; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. The angel did not prevail and asked that the struggle cease (Let me go), which Jacob refused to do unless his adversary would bless him.
That evening upon her return from Einstein and again at the breakfast table the next morning Gina told us that when she gave my letter to Einstein she, as instructed, read him from my slip of paper the passage that was intended to mollify the impression my intransigence could create. Einstein liked the passage very much. Of course he understood whom I likened to Jacob and whom to the angel. In good humor he observed: But why should an angel be fearful of the daybreak? What kind of an angel is it? During the day he returned to that verse from Genesis more than once, and at the dinner table he recounted it to Margot and Miss Dukas. But when in the evening Gina was about to leavein the meantime he wrote his answer to my letter all along the marginshe called her aside and told her, in German as usual: Please, dont say to Velikovsky that I remarked about the angel. Possibly Velikovsky is a religious man, and this remark may hurt his feelings. Gina told me and I was not hurt; just the contraryI thought that this was an example of how Einstein was sensitive to the feelings of others. But it was still night, and the struggle had to go on. I was not giving in; I was actually the attacking partner of the debate; the case of the comet grazing the sun was the square on the chessboard which I selected for the encounter decisive for the campaign to follow.