While much as the pandemic has been a story of devastation and loss, it has also been one of resilience — of individual people, families and entire communities not only surviving a deadly threat but seeing in the moment a chance to serve others. Some even dare remind us that joy is still a possibility. We asked our correspondents around the world to share stories from this year that speak to the strength of the human spirit, and to how disruption can bring out the best in us.
A few months into quarantine, a teacher in Brazil, Maura Cristina Silva, could tell that her vivacious students were starting to buckle. “I am yearning for your hug,” wrote one third grader.
They had become 57 tiny boxes on a computer screen, leaving her with shaky and poorly lit glimpses into the toll the pandemic was taking on a cluster of families in Padre Miguel, a working-class district in western Rio de Janeiro.
Students with learning disabilities were falling behind, as were those who did not have their own computers.
But the text from the unhugged student, which came four months after their public school was abruptly closed, got to Ms. Silva. The child had used the word saudade, a Portuguese term that conveys feelings of longing and melancholy.
Ms. Silva wondered if she could find a way to safely embrace her students.
Her first idea was to use a transparent shower curtain fitted out with four plastic sleeves — but sanitizing it after each embrace seemed impractical.
Then she came up with the idea of a pandemic “hugging kit” — disposable raincoats, surgical gloves, face masks and hand sanitizer.
The response from parents was resounding: How soon could she drop by?
She rolled out the hugging operation in late July, renting a sound truck and driving from door to door, blasting a classroom playlist her students loved.
“Distance can’t destroy what we have built,” Ms. Silva, 47, said on a recent rainy afternoon after visiting three students. “I needed to show them that our bonds are still alive, even if I’m not able to hold them every morning.”
The kids beamed as Ms. Silva draped herself and each student in plastic with a surgeon’s precision. Then she wrapped her arms around each one and lifted them off the ground for a long, tender embrace.
Yasmim Vitória de Oliveira said she missed the museum outings and classroom pajama parties that Ms. Silva used to organize.
“She’s playful and she lets us have fun,” the 9-year-old said.
Ms. Silva said that once the pandemic passed, she would hug her students with abandon, never again taking for granted the healing power of touch.
“In a moment of tragedy, we’ve been able to share moments of love,” Ms. Silva said. “That is very powerful.”