Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Uncle Ezra and Uncle Jeff

It’s been a few years since I visited Uncle Ezra or his home. As an uncle whose niece lives at the opposite end of the country, I can understand how Uncle Ezra must miss me. Indeed, he writes often, and his letters showcase both his uncanny wit and remarkable sense of humor. For instance, despite being incredibly wealthy, his letters include these hilarious requests for money. He even leaves a self-addressed envelope into which said money should go. Oh, Uncle Ezra, you will do anything for a gag, won’t you?

Uncle Jeff, another member of the family, had a profound effect on Uncle Ezra a few years ago. Instead of getting a letter asking for money, for the first time I could remember, Uncle Ezra’s letter asked for my opinion. As a tribute to Uncle Jeff, the title and tagline of this blog derive from a speech he delivered a few years ago. I end with an excerpt from that speech:

May you find ways to help others under circumstances where they cannot possibly know that you have done so.

May you be patient, and gentle, and tolerant, without becoming smug, self-satisfied, and arrogant.

May you never be afraid to take the risk of getting dirty, but may you always be sufficiently sure-footed that you avoid the abyss of contamination.

May you know enough bad weather that you never take sunshine for granted, and enough good weather that your faith in the coming of spring is never shaken.

May you always be able to confess ignorance, doubt, vulnerability, and uncertainty.

May you frequently travel beyond the places that are comfortable and familiar, the better to appreciate the miraculous diversity of life.

And may your steps lead you often back to Ithaca. Back to East Hill. For you will always be Cornellians. And we will always be happy to welcome you home.


4 responses

  1. anony

    an uncle with dirty hands?

    August 5, 2008 at 7:51 pm

  2. Lav

    As you know, I think of the dirt speech as the best such speech I’ve ever heard. Out of curiosity, what is your take on Beloved Cornell, Revolutionary Cornell? It uses Lehman’s very unique oratorical style of using two things rather than the standard three.

    I’ve been meaning to read the Sartre play sometime, but it always ends up on the backburner. Have you read it and if so, any plans for a fauxlosophical exposition?

    August 5, 2008 at 8:25 pm

  3. unclekrish

    @ anony… I always wash them before playing with the Bee. 🙂

    For some context, Lehman quotes from a Sartre play called “Dirty Hands” in the speech, and my favorite line is the following:
    “How you cling to your purity, young man! How afraid you are to soil your hands! All right, stay pure! What good will it do? Purity is an idea for a yogi or a monk. You intellectuals and bourgeois anarchists use it as a pretext for doing nothing. To do nothing, to remain motionless, arms at your sides, wearing kid gloves. Well, I have dirty hands. Right in to the elbows. You don’t love men, Hugo. You love only principles.”

    @ Lav…. I haven’t read the Sartre play, either, but hopefully I will some day. I think we actually discussed Lehman’s oratorical style at some point. At least I seem to remember you mentioning a friend of yours who did the same thing.

    August 5, 2008 at 10:53 pm

  4. Pingback: It’s a Wonderful Life « Dirty Hands

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