A Call To Rescue Our Dear Mother

Editor’s Note: Safeguard Old State is publishing for the first time in over a decade a letter to the Penn State Family by retired Trustee Ben Novak. This letter originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and The Daily Collegian in 1995.

About a decade ago, a movie called The Never-Ending Story appeared. It was about a world of imagination, called “Fantasia,” which was being destroyed by an approaching Nothing. Only one young boy, named Atreu, could save Fantasia and its beautiful Princess.

At the end of the story the world of imagination had been lost to the Nothing. The beautiful princess comes to the boy and says, “This is all that is left of Fantasia — a few grains of sand,” which she puts in the hand of the boy and adds in a smile, “But you can bring it all back.”

The movie is a parable of our time in the form of a children’s story. I often recall it when I think of what is happening to the beautiful world of the University. It inspired this letter:

To a Young Atreu and a Princess:

Please forgive the public nature of this letter. I have never met you, nor have you ever met me. But I know of no other way to reach you, except by placing this message where it might someday find you.

For the matter is urgent: your mother is in danger and she needs you.

Few understand the peril in which your mother finds herself. Those who were charged with caring for her, and protecting her honor, have come to see her solely in terms of wares and charms to sell. They see in her only jobs and paychecks, appropriations and research grants. Instead of a lady, there is only a budget. Instead of a source of wisdom, there is only a source of funding.

And her students, they are the unkindest of all. She is no longer a lady to them but a future job. Instead of coming to the University to find their dearest mother, they seek only to get away from their parents.

Oh the ingratitude! If the University is our Alma Mater, our dear mother, she is the most used and abused lady you shall ever see. She is taken for granted, and she is thought of only as a servant to bring people what they want. As often as she brings her gifts, her students scorn her and turn their backs. They think only of the jobs they will have when they leave her. Though they are in her presence they do not see her.

When they walk to class, they ignore what she whispers to them from the stones and the trees, and they turn deaf ears to her calling. They see only what they need to pass a test or get a job. They treat our mother as a dull servant, useful only to advance ambition.

No one anymore stops to admire this lovely lady, our mother. They do not see her love or her charms, nor hear the stories she longs to tell them.

So, dear Princess, no one brings this beautiful lady flowers anymore. Boys and girls do not sit at her feet and listen to the songs and stories of her maidenhood. They do not care about the loves she gave birth to, nor about the adventures of those who gave their lives for her, not even the stories of the lost loves.

Few, oh so few, come and rest their heads in her bosom anymore and listen to the beat of her heart.

This lovely lady, this fount of honor, our mother, awaits a champion. She awaits the one who will rescue her honor and restore her children to her.

Today this lady bears uncomplainingly the scorn of the those who treat her as only as object to be used. She sees her love marketed, and her charms bought and sold to make her users rich. She sees her children mock her, and those who do not care about her settle into her home and order her about.

Each evening she wanders the campus, listening at the doorways of the lounges of East and West, North and South, of Pollock, and of Simmons, and McElwain and Atherton to hear whether anyone still remembers her. She wanders toward the house that Evan built, and kneels at the grave where her most gallant knight, Atherton, is buried. She read the names engraved around the tops of buildings, remembering the minds that chose those names and the hands that chiseled them in her honor.

She stands before the towering columns of Pattee and reads the words of her servant: “Know thyself,” and the tears well up, and she wonders if she has become only a misty memory in the minds of those who pass by.

She walks to the lawn of Old Main, past the place Old Willow no longer graces, and sees the eyes of her son Osmond looking down without recognition. Then she stands before the halls where her first students studied.

She remembers how much she meant to them, and she cries for the love and the honor she once knew.

There are so few who remember the beauty of this lady, the honor she bestowed, and the warmth she gave when her sons and daughters acknowledged her and gathered around her feet. We who remember are growing old, and we can no longer ease her pain or dry her tears, for the young no longer come to her and she cries for her children.

So she awaits a young boy who will show her honor again. And it must be you, Atreu, for a woman must be honored by men. Just as a man, no matter how rich or powerful he is, who is not honored by women, has no honor at all, so this beautiful lady’s honor can only be rescued by a young man.

And to the young maiden who reads this and hears the sighs of the beautiful lady, then know that you are the Princess. Go to our mother’s side and listen long and lovingly to her voice. For she needs you.

And she shall tell you how to teach boys to honor their mother again. And it shall be through you that the rescuer of our mother shall be led to her.

Few will understand what needs to be done, perhaps none but you. For the import of this messages is meant only for you. When you read it, you will understand, and you will know its meaning, and it will rend your hearts, and tears will come into your eyes for the lost honor of our mother.

Then go climb the Mountain, and wander through the forest until you hear her whispering to you again.

She will hint to you of the stories she used to tell her children, and you will begin to feel her warmth. Faith and courage will be born in you. Then seek out the elders and search through the ancient books in which her memory and her honor are recorded. Then you will be armed to do what must be done to save the lady.

Until a young Atreu and a Princess hear the call, the Nothing will continue to eat away the honor of this lady, and she shall wander the campus alone looking for her lost children.

This is the call of danger. It is the call of peril for the lovely lady, the beautiful woman, our dear mother, Alma Mater. The honor of this beautiful lady can be rescued only by the young.