What's the one special item that's helped you get through tough pandemic times?
Last week, we wrote about a global photo project from anthropologist Paula Zuccotti. She asked people to send her photos of the items that have helped them cope during the pandemic. Their responses offer a quick, deep dive into their lives.
We liked the idea so much that we encouraged our readers to send in photos of one item that's been their pandemic panacea. Dozens of readers emailed us photos — a 20-sided Dungeons & Dragons die, a Japanese cooking pot, Indian takeout, a loom — along with their funny, surprising and poignant backstories.
We start and end this piece with what we here at NPR believe everyone needs to get through the tough times in life: a radio, of course! Here's a selection of responses, edited for length and clarity.
An old-school radio
This is my 1973 RadioShack receiver. It has been indispensable over the last 16 months of this pandemic. It has brought me news and updates on the pandemic from the world over. Long live radio! — Lamont Tittle, Albany, Ore.
Indian food Fridays
On Friday, March 13, 2020, I left the school where I worked with several students and colleagues thinking we would be away for two weeks. That night, I craved Indian food. I was looking for a place to eat since dine-in was closed. I found an Indian place around the corner from my home that I didn't know was there. That night began two traditions: Friday night Indian food and a movie.
I have become friends with Nacheer, the owner, and the beautiful cook. They are family. The gift of this past year is that I met them and built community. — Lauren Morton, Atlanta
A 20-sided die
A D20 die. I am an avid Dungeons & Dragons player. Once our D&D team figured out how to play virtually, it was like a breath of fresh air settled over my life. Playing with my close friends, watching Critical Role [a live-streamed role-playing game] with my husband, re-reading game handbooks, designing characters ... helped me escape back to a sense of normalcy. — Erin Kraker, Grand Rapids, Mich.
My violin! I'm so homesick (rehearsal sick?) to play with real people again. I long to hear our imperfections and missed notes. I miss goofing off in rehearsal and commiserating with fellow stand partners over difficult passages. We may not be perfect, but the experience together is. I was foolish to take what I was so used to doing for years for granted — and I hope we can return someday soon. — Kritin Karkare, La Jolla, Calif.
My foster dog Penelope
Hands down, it's been working with shelter dogs.
I sold my house in Oregon in 2019 to take a gap year to travel. Then the pandemic stranded me without housing or a job. I spent four months with my parents in Ohio, where I started volunteering for a shelter: taking dogs out, feeding them, cleaning cages. As soon as I got to Mexico City in October, I sought out a shelter that lets folks take dogs out for walks. I'm now on my second foster dog, Penelope. Absolutely would not be surviving without all the joy and satisfaction these dogs bring! — Trish Kandik, Mexico City
My baby girl
My pandemic essential has been my daughter, Avalin, born in July 2020. She has kept me busy and sleep deprived enough during her first year of life that I haven't been as overwhelmed by the lockdown. — Elena Njemanze, Oakland, Calif.
A puzzle swap
Wooden jigsaw puzzles. They are an engrossing solo activity, but I love sharing them — so they are a social thing, too. One puzzle has been traveling the country. As each person completes it, I ask them to sign the inside of the lid. Then I give them the name and address of the next happy recipient. The idea grew out of a puzzle swap I did with a friend in Portland. That was such fun (in lockdown, simple fun was so magnified) that I decided to grow the game. — Ellen Kirk, Long Beach, Calif.
A traditional cooking pot
The one essential object that's helped get me and my family through the pandemic: a donabe, a clay pot from Iga in western Japan. I cook rice in it almost every night. It's labor intensive. It's old fashioned. Making dinner with it is at least an hour-long ordeal. But rice that's cooked in this pot tastes incredible: perfectly fluffy and sticky with each kernel retaining its shape and slight chewiness. — Kenji Hall, Tokyo
Watching a sapling grow
I'm a freshly divorced mama who moved in the beginning of the pandemic, then was diagnosed with breast cancer and received two surgeries and a month of radiation. Taking care of a baby bur oak tree with my toddler was a beautiful way to slow down, heal and teach my son how to take care of something and track its growth. — Beth, Indianapolis
My object is actually a spot: a small space in the back of my house where for a few minutes I get a little sun while sipping a cup of coffee.
I know it's not easy for anyone, but the pandemic has been very difficult in Brazil. We are experiencing a strong denial of science. The president said that the person who takes the vaccine becomes a crocodile. It would be comical if it were not tragic.
Filling a cup of coffee and for a few minutes and just standing there in the sun reminds me that life is simple. This brings relief, if only momentarily. — Rodrigo Lupatini, Campo Grande, Brazil
An imaginary journey
During New Zealand's short but strict lockdown, I came up with the idea of an imaginary travel journal. Pick a country and sketch something that interests you about that country. Move to a neighboring country from there and travel the world! It filled me with a sense of adventure and I learned a lot about the countries I visited. A great project for anyone feeling stuck. — Lisa Babcock, Christchurch, New Zealand
A loom to weave away grief
A Glimakra loom. I learned to weave in September.
I am an emergency department physician. My work is fast-paced and often intense. I see people on their worst days. Weaving helps me slow down and enjoy the senses, color and texture, and it is rewarding to make something useful from a skein of yarn with my own hands.
I can also safely step out of the lines while weaving because it isn't a life I am holding in my hands; it is only a towel or a napkin or a scarf. It isn't a disaster if I run into a big snarl or break a thread. — Beth Koval, Delmar, Md.
A CD of a grandfather's lessons
An essential item has been a CD that my aunts gave me when my maternal grandfather passed in 2014. The CD contains video clips of him giving tai chi/qi gong instructions from the 1990s.
In early March 2020, I finally took the CD out from my drawer and watched the videos for the very first time and began in earnest to practice it.
Now I have a discipline of practicing a quick qi gong routine followed by meditation early in the morning before the sun rises. — Benjamin Chan, Austin, Texas
A bicycle built for friendship
My pandemic essential is my titanium Lynskey road bike. Not pictured are the four women I've been riding with for nearly 20 years. We range in age from 59 to 72. We continued to ride throughout the pandemic. Our bikes are a lifeline to good health and sanity. When the world became very scary, we still had each other and our bikes. — Teri Clay-Poole, Olympia, Wash.
A radio love story
It may seem trite to tell NPR that the one thing that kept me going most in the pandemic was a radio. But this radio was my late husband's. I found it in a box in January 2020, when I finally cleared out the room he used as a sick room in his last couple of years. I wanted to turn the space into a library where I could be surrounded by books and music we both loved.
But the little machine was pretty old and didn't work. I found a one-man repair shop 50 miles away. Anton thought he might be able to find the parts. In mid-March 2020, he called to say he'd succeeded — even the CD drawers worked — and I could collect it before the weekend. It was the last expedition I made before COVID made all such jaunts impossible.
I've listened to that radio every single day since. — Laura Cameron, Olympia, Wash.
Suzette Lohmeyer is a frequent contributor to this blog and to NPR's health newsletter, Shots. She is based in Arlington, Va. where she can usually be found writing with a dog next to her. Her pandemic must have? Long dog walks, rain, shine or snow.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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