Pleasure Survives: Your Optimistic Moments From 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide. Millions more have lost their jobs and governments have offered unequal support. Racial and discrimination reckoning streamed onto the streets in the United States this summer and its effects continued into the fall. The country’s presidential elections saw a record turnout but sparked a debate about the nature of the democratic process.

But even in this dark year there were moments of lightness, growth and utter joy.

We asked readers to send us photos and videos capturing the positive moments of this pandemic year. We have received more than 750 submissions from all over the world – from China to Australia, Mexico to Italy and from the USA.

They have shown us joyful weddings and emotional births, the wonder of nature and the silent grace of solitude. They shared tearful reunions with grandparents and the tenderness that comes with great losses. Above all, the submissions showed an appreciation for the experiences and contexts that make life meaningful.

What follows is a selection of these snapshots. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Michele Janezic, Queens

My 98-year-old grandma Sophie Janezic survived Covid after catching it in the spring. She lives in a nursing home in the Rockaways, and during much of the pandemic we could only see her through a window. In October we were finally allowed to sit with her and hold her hand. Her memory fades, but she was there. It warms my heart that we have shared this necessary moment of comfort during such a confusing and challenging time.

Katherine Smith, Arlington, Va.

We planned that our wedding in May 2020 would be a big party in Colorado, but decided to cancel it until the third week of March. Even so, after five years we didn’t want to wait to get married. On June 5th, we held our wedding with only three witnesses in the Sakura Park Pavilion in Manhattan. Our friends and family from all over the world have joined Zoom. Nothing about our wedding was as we planned or expected, but I wouldn’t trade a moment from it. Even the birds that were loudly heard on the family zoom call will be fondly remembered for years to come!

Joanna Templeton, Northport, NY

When Brooklyn restaurants closed in the worst moments of the New York City lockdown, my son Paul Templeton and girlfriend Julie Rossi opened their Bed-Stuy brownstone kitchen window and served homemade pizza to friends. The city ran out of yeast, so they learned how to make leaven to leaven the dough. This picture from May makes me happy. The darkness inside their tiny apartment where they were quarantined is broken by the open window and smile. The hand sanitizer served alongside the pizza is a perfect round up of New York during the pandemic – joy survived.

Tom Tenenbaum, Parker, Colo.

In August, I photographed our 4 year old nephew Easton Taylor playing in an enthusiastic day game. Released for a short time from the confinement of the pandemic that he could not understand, this little boy appears as an affirmation and celebration of the goodness in our lives. When I think of this moment, I smile and remember the joy that is still in the world during these difficult times.

Kathleen Yeager, Kingston, NY

During the pandemic, my friends and I formed a local vocal and string orchestra – Ulsters Third Draft. For practice lessons like this, we meet on each other’s porch with our neighbors as an audience. I am grateful to be making music and memories in a vibrant, creative community. The pandemic gave me the freedom and discipline to engage in the study of the voice and the ukulele. I appreciate the friendships that have been made and deepened through making music.

Riv Begun, Zurich

During Covid, we were stuck at my in-laws’ house in Mexico City. We came to a wedding before the virus spread and our flights were canceled the day after the wedding. We spent the next six months at her home in Mexico City. This is where my husband pushes me into my birthday cake for a bite while we try to party in uncertain times. Now when I look back, I am grateful that I married into such a wonderful family. I usually have a big party at my house around my birthday with all of our friends. I spend all day cooking, and when everyone comes, I am obliterated. This year has been tough for everyone, but the birthday I shared with my husband and his parents was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Ronald Crooks, St. Louis

For a number of years now, my husband and I have been enjoying weekly lunch with one of our best friends. In 2020, we had to find a workaround in order to continue this tradition. Our solution was to park (sometimes illegally) with the back of our cars and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Responsibly separated from each other, we ate lunch almost every week from April until today. Not being able to be with the people we love was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the pandemic for my husband and I. In this little way, we were able to continue to maintain meaningful, personal contact – and at the same time even support the difficult local restaurants.

Audrey Zhang, Ambler, PA.

On March 14, the governor of Pennsylvania announced that the state would issue a protection order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. It was also the day my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child. The silver lining from Covid was that I was allowed to work from home during my pregnancy. But there was also a lot of inconvenience. My husband couldn’t see me for a single antenatal visit or ultrasound. I had to wear a mask during my delivery and my parents were not allowed to visit me in the hospital. Aurelia came to us on November 25th and is the best thing that happened in 2020.

Jessica Breadsell, Perth, Australia

After four and a half years of dissertation – and a total of almost eleven years at the university – I finished my Ph.D. in sustainability from Curtin University in Australia. My mom and stepfather were watching the ceremony live from Houston as they couldn’t travel to be here. As I look back on that moment, I am proud that I was able to learn so much from my experiences. I am grateful to my family, friends and colleagues for supporting me during my studies. It’s bittersweet that some of my family members didn’t make it, but I’m grateful that they are healthy and safe.

Alexandra Guido, Collingswood, NJ

My sister Juliana lives three hours away from me. When I had my daughter two years ago, I worried that she would not know and love my sister the way I wanted to. During the quarantine, Juliana was able to stay with us for two weeks at a time. I feel so blessed that she and my daughter were able to spend this time together, like the moment Juliana shared her love for baking with Charlotte. I love the connection they have been able to create through this pandemic. It really is one of our highlights of 2020.

Courtney LG Dowell, Charleston, W.VA.

My family lost my brother Adam Blake Gale this year. We still couldn’t hold a ceremony because we’re all trying to do well. My sister and I wanted to be safe, but we needed to be together to grieve. So we created a garden. It took care of both sanity and products. Sometimes all you have to do is put a hoe and a rail in the dirt to heal.

Johanne Mercier, Bayside, California

My husband and I decided to buy a picnic table so we could imagine sitting outside in our favorite pub. On our first night in October we had a fire in the fireplace and said hello to our neighbors as they passed their evening stroll. When I look back, I am grateful for my kind and funny husband. It also reminds me that we got to know our neighbors a little better. The pandemic made our world a little smaller, but it wasn’t all bad.

Amber Floyd Lee, Johnson City, Tenn.

This year we explored nature more. This picture is from Wilbur Lake in Tennessee in August. Although it is less than 30 minutes from the house I lived in for 11 years, I had never been there. We stayed close to home but there was a new adventure every week. We saw eagles through binoculars. I learned to fly fish. We went canoeing as a family. We hiked. We swam in waterfalls. We created a garden. We cooked over a fire. We picked vegetables and arranged bouquets of flowers. We snuggled under blankets and watched the sun go down. We watched the night sky for planets and falling stars. We discovered incredible beauty in the things that allowed us to 2020.

Caroline Waisberg, Henderson, Nev.

My son Benjamin had begged for a cat for a while, but we had busy lives and were barely home in the week before the pandemic. In April online school was not going well for us – my son was restless and bored, my daughter was unhappy. We embraced the moment and by chance connected with a person who was caring for a mother and her kittens. Instead of one we got two kittens and our two children loved it! At that moment in May, when we saw how happy the kittens made our son, we felt like things were all right again.

Abe Forman-Greenwald, Los Angeles

“I’ll Make You Mine,” a film by my wife, Lynn Chen, premiered in South by Southwest in March, but we ended up watching it with neighbors and friends across the street from our house. I laid out a “virtual red carpet” with clips of friends and family wishing her all the best from home, as if they were all gathered for their premiere, but in sweatpants instead of evening wear. It wasn’t what we were hoping for, but I’m glad that we were able to turn the disappointment of losing a real festival premiere into something special. I am very much looking forward to returning to theaters in 2021 and I hope that the predicted death of cinema attendance turns out to be false. And I look forward to inviting friends to the movie’s indoor premiere next year.

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