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2021 wasn't all bad: Here & Now listeners share their memorable moments of the year

Sparky Anderson's daughter in front of his Jeep during their travels in West Virginia. (Courtesy)
Sparky Anderson's daughter in front of his Jeep during their travels in West Virginia. (Courtesy)

For many of us, 2021 was hard.

But we wanted to know about glimmers of happiness in Here & Now listeners’ lives. We heard from listeners across the country about what challenges they faced and what moments of joy from 2021 they'll hold onto heading into 2022.

For 52-year-old Sparky Anderson, 2021 kicked off with a rocky start. As head coach of the ski team at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, their program was facing elimination.

While they did raise the money needed to keep the program running, he wanted to do something different personally to brighten the year, so he decided to take his daughter on a road trip.

Riding in an old Jeep, Anderson and his daughter traveled from Bellingham, Washington, down to California, and then moved across the southwest into Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia.

He'll always remember the moment he shared with his 15-year-old as they crossed a bridge into Kentucky, he says, "and looking at her experiencing a road trip and the South, really for the first time."

Children's book author Gregory Tang, 61, remembers people telling him his idea — a virtual instruction to show teachers how to teach math to children — wasn't going to work.

" 'They're not gonna get on Zoom with you on a Saturday morning after they've been on Zoom all year with their kids,' " Tang recalls people saying.

But over the course of 25 meetings, nearly 11,000 teachers signed up.

Teachers weren't paid for attending, and there was no reason for them to be there other than to talk about math and help their students, he says.

"That was one of the things that made this year fantastic," Tang says. "Because it was a terrible year for a lot of reasons, and it was a really hard year for teachers, and it was just something great. It turned out to be something great."

At the start of the pandemic, Deborah Denenfeld felt isolated. The 69 year old from Louisville, Kentucky, serves as the executive director for Dancing Well: The Soldier Project, which works with veterans and families affected by PTSD.

"Many people are suffering from isolation," she says, "And as the COVID numbers rise and fall, and rise and fall, it's affecting people's mental health."

Then Denenfeld discovered something "very joyous" — the Daily Antidote of Song, a daily meeting held over Zoom where people join and are led in song by one different musical guest every day. So far the group has met for more than 600 consecutive days.

"I didn't used to think of myself as a singer and I joined this," she says. "… It was something to do, let me see if I like it. I'm hooked!"

At the onset of the pandemic, Tory Kief, a 71-year-old author from Marysville, Washington, found herself with nothing. As an extroverted author — "one of the few," she notes — Kief wasn't able to go out and chat with people.

She decided to take a MasterClass with author and humorist David Sedaris, who suggested Kief go for a walk, an idea she side-eyed. So she took another class with "The Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown.

He suggested everyone take a walk.

The next day, Kief began walking, going up to a half a mile on the first day. Now, Kief says, she walks two and a half miles every day.

By the third day of her walks, Kief began to notice all the trash lying around and started bringing along grocery bags to pick it up.

Six months into her walks, people began honking their horns and offering Kief money in support of what she was doing. One woman told her Kief had inspired her to walk and pick up trash too.

"I was not doing this for any feedback or anything at all," Kief says, "but I was amazed at how much the gratitude meant."

Megan Posco, a 27-year-old book publicist from Cambridge, Massachusetts, had always assumed her older brother would never have children. But she was elated this year when her brother and his wife announced over Facetime that they were expecting.

"It was kind of like this whole new future opened up in front of me," Posco shares. "I had never spent any time thinking about my brother as a dad."

Posco still gets choked up remembering the first time she saw her nephew, Cameron, through pictures sent by his father after Cameron was born.

"I had never had that experience before in my life," Posco says, "where I just looked at my phone and just started crying literal tears of joy."

When Posco finally got to hold her nephew, she recalls him being tiny and getting the opportunity to feed and burp him.

"I have no experience with babies," Posco says. "So I'm going to put him up on my shoulder, not realizing his head is just totally bobbling around and I'm like 'Oh God!' I kind of plopped him onto my shoulder."

Posco's hope for next year is that Cameron will begin to recognize her.

"He'll be 5 months at the end of December," Posco says. "And so hopefully in the first few months of 2022, he'll start recognizing Auntie Megan."

Jeannette Muhammad produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Muhammad also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.