The traveler and the nymph

(In 2011, a few days before MSU’s 50th anniversary, my college held a program “Verses & Anecdotes, MSU Through the Years: A Celebration & Reminiscence” that drew faculty and student representatives from every department to share stories about life in the university. Here was what I wrote and delivered for the program. This year, as MSU celebrates its 59th year, I’m sharing this as I don’t have a better piece to honor the university that cradled and molded me.)

BESIDE THE PLACID LAKE a traveler came rushing with sighs: “Ahhh. So long have I gone, and so sweet is the remembrance of my life in this sanctum—the long walks, the serenades with my friends, the fear and trembling for your guards, the food for my brain and soul, the delight of my awakening and the dreams I dreamed… So far have I come, but where are you, mother, oh mother of my soul!”

Then a nymph suddenly appeared and said: “My child, you need not look for me, for I did not leave. Aye, so sweet are those remembrances which were bitter once. Didn’t those walks tire you, the serenades muffle you, and your trembling consume you? Didn’t you once ignore the food that nourished you? Didn’t you long for friends only at the time of parting? Didn’t you once delight on dreams and shun your awakenings? And wasn’t I with you when the bitterness turned sweet with love? So far and wide have you come, but aren’t those places just the same? You need not look for me, my child, for I have become a part of you.”

The traveler, upon seeing his mother for the first time in years, exclaimed: “Mother, how aged have you become! How gray is your hair which was once dark as night; how stern is your look yet how gentle are your eyes. How worn are your garments made bright only by the torch you carry. How so little and so much have changed!”

The nymph looked straight at him and said, “My child, do not be perturbed. The lake is not always placid. This place is not without weeds. Storms raged, and your siblings who stayed fought with me the paroxysms created by a few of my own children. And I have survived, scathed but strong. With ars and scientia, I have flown to great heights; my children increased; and my domain is no longer only by this lake you gaze upon. I aged and it is rightfully so. For the gray hairs are marks of wisdom, my stern looks are for those who refuse me, my gentleness for those who seek. And aren’t you among those who fuel the torch which illuminates my garments? Old and wise have I grown, my child, just as you have.”

“Yes, mother,” the traveler said, “you are still beautiful and strong. Oh how I cherish the lessons you’ve taught me. You’ve taught me that friendship lights darkness; frugality saves life; respect creates bridges; brilliance lights our way; and love keeps the light burning. You have taught me to bridge the idealism and realism of Plato and Aristotle, and you have taught me to be my own thinker. You are strong and beautiful, indeed. And isn’t it you who’ve taught me that anything seen with love is of beauty?

“So for your 50thyear, mother, accept this humble gift—this is the best garment I could buy for you—hoping this would be worn for keeps.”

The nymph smiled and sighed, “Child, I will receive your gift but not without a word. For the best garments you could clothe me is the one you lovingly weave with your hands using the knowledge I shared with you. And let it be in your heart that those garments are not of your own nor mine but for others.

“So on my golden year, come and see your siblings, and share and make remembrances. And together rise and grow; light the darkness; save lives; build bridges; seek for peace; and make brighter and better the world beyond this placid lake.”

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