Senate Matters: On the Present Crisis


Right now, we want to say everything, and we want to know everything. Consequently, this is a difficult time to say anything.

Because I do not have any good words of my own, there is a poem by Dylan Thomas (“This Side of the Truth”) that I would like to share. I will interpret it liberally, and maybe incorrectly, for these times in a way that I can identify with. You can read it in full on your own here, but below is the first stanza.

This side of the truth,
You may not see, my son,
King of your blue eyes
In the blinding country of youth,
That all is undone,
Under the unminding skies,
Of innocence and guilt
Before you move to make
One gesture of the heart or head,
Is gathered and spilt
Into the winding dark
Like the dust of the dead.

I interpret the context of the poem as a crisis. This word is subjective, but we all know what it means. I interpret the audience as someone, maybe Thomas’ 6-year-old son, blindsided by this crisis and lacking the reference to understand it, except as unfathomably bad. I interpret the point of view of the writer as having the benefit of age, experience and wisdom enough to see with certainty beyond the present crisis, yet struggling to express himself over physical distance and the intangible limits of human communication.

I interpret the writer’s mood as calm, compassionate, respectful, and as hopeful as one can be while acknowledging the fear and pain in the person they are speaking to. And the message … I take a lot of license with that. Whatever the actual message was, the message I need to take away is that we are all naive in a crisis, be that crisis the coronavirus pandemic or the extended trial of our lives, and you simply cannot know enough to feel completely whole and at ease until it is over and you can finally look back on it. And all of the implications of that fundamental truth of existence are OK.

I don’t know if any of that is what Dylan Thomas was going for, but for me, it captures some of the difficulties of the present crisis, including how hard it is to say anything meaningful to the people you care about.

So, reflecting on the above in closing, I offer the following thoughts:

1. Thank you.

2. You are not alone.

3. We will see the other side together.

4. The University Senate is still meeting, still working, and still looking out for you.

5. If you ever have a doubt that you are not resilient enough to get through this, take a look (however you can) at The Cathedral of Learning. Remember when and how it was built. You are built from the same material. You are Pitt.

Come join us in the Senate, which currently meets remotely, and see what we can all do together.

Senate Vice President David Salcido is a research assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine.