Joy Survives: Your Positive Moments From 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people around the world. Millions more have lost their jobs, and governments have offered uneven support. In the United States, a reckoning with race and discrimination poured into the streets during the summer, and its effects have rippled into the fall. The country’s presidential election brought record-breaking turnout but led to a debate over the very essence of the democratic process.

Yet even in this dark year, there have been moments of lightness, growth and utter joy.

We asked readers to send us photos and videos that captured the positive moments in this pandemic year. We received more than 750 submissions from all over the world — from China to Australia, Mexico to Italy, and across the United States.

You showed us joyous weddings and emotional births, the wonder of nature and the quiet grace of solitude. You shared tearful reunions with grandparents and the tenderness that comes with experiencing great loss. Above all, the submissions showed an appreciation for the experiences and connections that make life meaningful.

What follows is a selection of those snapshots. The responses 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 through much of the pandemic we could only see her through a window. In October we were finally allowed to sit inside with her and hold her hand. Her memory is fading, but she was present there. It warms my heart that during such a confusing and challenging time, we shared this needed moment of comfort together.

Katherine Smith, Arlington, Va.

We planned for our wedding to be a big party in Colorado in May 2020 but decided to cancel it by the third week of March. Still, after five years together, we didn’t want to wait to get married. On June 5, we held our wedding with only three witnesses at the Sakura Park gazebo in Manhattan. Our friends and family from around the world joined in on Zoom. Nothing about our wedding was what we planned or expected, but I wouldn’t trade any moment of it. Even the birds who were loudly audible on the family Zoom call will be remembered fondly for years to come!

Joanna Templeton, Northport, N.Y.

When Brooklyn restaurants closed during the worst moments of the New York City lockdown, my son, Paul Templeton, and his girlfriend, Olivia Marcus, opened their Bed-Stuy brownstone kitchen window and served homemade pizza to friends. The city was out of yeast, so they learned to make sourdough to leaven the dough. This picture from May gives me a rush of joy. The darkness of the interior of their tiny apartment, where they have been quarantined, is broken by the open window and the smiles. The hand sanitizer served alongside the pizza is a perfect summary of New York during the pandemic — joy survives.

Tom Tenenbaum, Parker, Colo.

In August, I photographed our 4-year-old nephew, Easton Taylor, playing in an enthusiastic game of tag. Freed for a brief time from the confinement of the pandemic that he could not begin to understand, this little boy appears as an affirmation and celebration of the goodness in our lives. Thinking of this moment makes me smile and reminds me of the joy still in the world in these difficult times.

Kathleen Yeager, Kingston, N.Y.

During the pandemic, my friends and I formed a local vocal and string band — Ulster’s Third Draft. For practice sessions like this one, we get together on each other’s porches with our neighbors as our audience. I am grateful to make music and memories in a vibrant, creative community. The pandemic afforded me the freedom and discipline to immerse myself in studying voice and the ukulele. I cherish the friendships forged and deepened through making music.

Riv Begun, Zurich

During Covid, we got stuck at my in-laws’ house in Mexico City. We came for a wedding before the virus had spread, and our flights were canceled the day after the wedding. We spent the next six months living at their house in Mexico City. Here, my husband pushes me into my birthday cake for a bite as we try to celebrate in uncertain times. Looking back now, it makes me feel grateful that I married into such a wonderful family. Usually around my birthday, I have a big party at my house with all of our friends. I spend all day cooking, and I’m wiped out by the time everyone comes. This year was hard for everyone, but the birthday I shared with my husband and his parents was one of the best I’ve had.

Ronald Crooks, St. Louis

For several years, my husband and I have enjoyed a weekly lunch with one of our best friends. In 2020, we had to find a workaround to be able to continue that tradition. Our solution was to park (occasionally illegally) with the rear ends of our cars facing each other and enjoy lunch from a local restaurant. Responsibly distant from each other, we have had lunch like this almost every week from April to the present. Not being able to be with the people we love has been, perhaps, the most upsetting aspect of the pandemic for my husband and me. In this small way, we have been able to continue to enjoy meaningful, personal contact — and even support struggling local restaurants at the same time.

Audrey Zhang, Ambler, PA.

On March 14, the governor of Pennsylvania announced that the state would enact a shelter-in-place 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 of Covid was that I got to work from home throughout my pregnancy. But there were many inconveniences too. My husband couldn’t accompany me to a single prenatal visit or ultrasound scan. I had to wear a mask during my delivery, and my parents were not allowed to visit me at the hospital. On Nov. 25, Aurelia joined us earth side and is the best thing that happened in 2020.

Jessica Breadsell, Perth, Australia

After four and a half years of doctoral study — and almost 11 years at university in total — I graduated with my Ph.D. in sustainability from Curtin University in Australia. My mum and stepdad watched the ceremony live from Houston, as they couldn’t travel to be here. Looking back on this moment, I am proud that I was able to learn so much from my experience. I am grateful to my family, friends and colleagues for supporting me through my studies. It is bittersweet that some of my family couldn’t make it, but I am grateful they are healthy and safe.

Alexandra Guido, Collingswood, N.J.

My sister, Juliana, lives three hours from me. When I had my daughter two years ago, I worried she wouldn’t know and love my sister as I wanted her to. During quarantine, Juliana was able to come and stay with us for two weeks at a time. I feel so blessed that she and my daughter have been able to spend this time together, like this moment when Juliana shared her love of baking with Charlotte. I love the bond that they’ve been able to build through this pandemic. It’s truly one of our highlights of 2020.

Courtney L.G. Dowell, Charleston, W.VA.

My family lost my brother, Adam Blake Gale, this year. We still haven’t been able to hold a ceremony because we’re all trying to keep each other well. My sister and I wanted to be safe but desperately needed to be together to grieve. So we started a garden. It provided both sanity and produce. Sometimes you just need to take a hoe and rail at the dirt in order to heal.

Johanne Mercier, Bayside, Calif.

My husband and I decided to buy a picnic table so that we could imagine we were sitting outdoors at our favorite pub. On our first night enjoying it in October, we had a fire going in the fire pit and said “hello” to our neighbors as they passed on their evening walk. Looking back, it makes me feel grateful for my kind and hilarious husband. It also reminds me that we got to know our neighbors a little bit 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 the outdoors more. This image is from Wilbur Lake in Tennessee in August. Though it is less than 30 minutes from the house I’ve lived in for 11 years, I had never been there before. We stayed close to home, but each week was a new adventure. We saw eagles through binoculars. I learned to fly fish. We canoed as a family. We hiked. We swam in waterfalls. We grew a garden. We cooked over a fire. We harvested vegetables and arranged floral bouquets. We snuggled under blankets and watched the sun set. We watched the night sky for planets and shooting stars. We discovered incredible beauty in the things 2020 allowed us to do.

Caroline Waisberg, Henderson, Nev.

My son Benjamin had been begging for a cat for a while, but we had a busy life and were barely home during the week before the pandemic. In April, online school was not going well for us — my son was restless and bored, my daughter unhappy. We embraced the moment, and by serendipity we connected with a person who was fostering a mom and her kittens. Instead of one, we got two kittens, and both our children were ecstatic! This moment from May, when we saw how happy the kittens made our son, made us feel like things had fallen back into place.

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