THE BLOG
12/31/2012 12:33 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2013

'The Lives They Lived'

A celebration of the writers, thinkers, athletes, scientists and others who died in 2012.

A link worth following and stories worth reading -- to quote the lead-in paragraph:

This issue is meant to be a celebration of life, not an expression of grief. But since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., grief has been unavoidable. Our wish for those who knew and loved the 20 children and 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School is that they are held up by those around them until the day comes when they might feel something other than terrible loss. And our wish for the rest of us is that we all might help turn despair into hope.

And it is a great celebration -- no matter where you are in the world you will recognize many, if not all of the subjects chosen, and if you are like me, you will come away stirred by those with great accomplishments; moved by those whose lives were cut off too short; motivated by what can be accomplished, even in death; and your takeaway might be -- like mine -- a new appreciation for the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "It is not length of life, but depth of life."

Or as I might paraphrase Emerson -- it's not the fame of life, but the impact of life. And to that end I would like to add my own short entry and share the life of a man who passed on last week... a man who inspired me and through the exponential power of "paying it forward" maybe thousands of others as well -- and no doubt -- countless numbers in the future.

Berns was a fairly ordinary guy to the outward world. Wife, two boys, five grandchildren; lived in the same apartment for over 40 years; worked; was devoted to his family and friends -- you know the plot.

But as William James said: "The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it," and spend it that way Berns did and outlast him it will.

You will not find his obituary in any famous media outlet, you will not find his picture in any archive, but I guarantee you that his legacy will last as long -- longer -- than most in the Times review and long after many of them are forgotten, people will be inspired by Berns.

He believed in unconditional love. That is he was non-judgmental. He encouraged success but he supported failure -- he knew that one often leads to the other and that the line between the two was sometimes merely a kind word, an open ear, a strong shoulder, a pat on the back, a little money and a friendly smile.

He helped anyone who came into his field of vision. He was famous for writing checks and filling those annoying envelopes we all receive soliciting charitable donations -- his view was if they took the time to do this how could I not, and he wrote those checks when his own bank account was empty and increased their size when it was full, but he never forgot.

He gave from his heart and he gave unconditionally. No strings attached, no demands, no feeling of entitlement to control because he gave -- he wrote the check from love and gave it the way he gave his love unconditionally.

Berns gave jobs to people who needed a little help getting on their feet -- even if he made up the work and the need; never making them feel obligated; never making them feel indebted. Never calculating cost ratios or creating any sense of being put out. Again -- unconditional help.

I could go on and on -- bottom line -- he inspired me -- he continues to inspire me and as I replay my many conversations with him -- it is clear, in retrospect, that the majority of them were making sure that I was settled and helping others -- unconditionally.

Bottom line -- I like so many others -- try to pay forward his kindness, and already my children are enlisted in the same venture as are my friends and their children and of course his children and grandchildren... bringing deep meaning to "The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."

So, as we end one year and begin another -- a year without Berns, without the people the Times wrote about -- but a year and a lifetime and more with their legacies -- I share with you my wish for the New Year to all of you.

Listen:

"May you live all the days of your life." Jonathan Swift

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