Everyone who knew Gershon Burd knew he was "a nice guy." He would purposely sit by an entrance to his yeshiva study group so that he could smile at people as they walked in -- but they really had no idea the depths of his goodness until he died last year, on his 40th birthday, in an accident. Testimonies poured in to his wife of 10 years about how he made lives better -- including through the charity he had quietly established to give money away. By only spending the minimum on yourself, you may find that you have much more than you would ever need. This was his discovery, and it was how, on a modest income, he gave away so much to so many.
I was introduced to Burd from the new preface to Wendy Shalit's contemporary classic, "A Return to Modesty." Her book, first published 15 years ago, incited many a debate -- and even outrage -- all having to do with sex. So what does Burd, who paid school tuition for poor students and made sure that local children got balloons on their birthdays -- all anonymously -- have to do with it? About Burd, Shalit writes: "Really, is there anything more extraordinary than a life lived with such sublime modesty?"
She first wrote the book shortly after college, in no small part as a reaction to the hook-up culture on campus. Now she sees the bigger picture. Shalit writes: "Today, after being married for 10 years and becoming a mother of three, I have a different perspective on modesty. I now see modesty not just as a part of successful relationships, but as part of a large understanding of what makes a life successful. We can't control what we get in life, so long-term happiness depends largely on how much we train ourselves to get satisfaction from giving."
Modesty helps us see the big picture -- that our lives should be integrated wholes, lived in communion with others. It's about escaping the tyranny of an isolated something that seems increasingly difficult and outre with each passing year and technology upgrade.
Or we could talk about Jell-O. That's the BDSM "safe word" a Planned Parenthood worker shares with a minor trying to keep sex from being "boring," as seen in a video from Live Action, a group that uncovers what's going on inside abortion clinics in the United States.
"Man hungers for beauty," Dana Gioia, a poet who has served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts said in a speech at the Napa Institute. "There is a void."