After Tucker C. Toole’s October 11, 2021 article for National Geographic.

COVID-19 has taken us away from loved ones, prevented us from exploring new places, and has forced us to experience loss, grief and solitude. Nonetheless, there have been moments of beauty. Moments in which we got to spend an entire day making music on the balcony. Moments in which we got to have conversations with family—or with people that feel like family. While many were able to enjoy moments with their loved ones and/or reconnect with themselves, this is not everyone’s reality. A huge part of the world’s population has suffered—and continues to suffer—tremendously.

After reading Tucker C. Toole’s article, “How do you find moments of grace, beauty and joy during a pandemic?,” NBN asked this question to the Northwestern community. From Somerset, England to San José, Costa Rica, Northwestern students share some of the moments that have brought them happiness during the pandemic.

Somerset, England

Photograph by Jack Parker / North by Northwestern

Jack Parker, a Weinberg senior, took this photo in his childhood home, the place where most of his cherished memories belong. “During COVID-19, I got a chance to return home for the first time in many years,” says Parker. “I spent three months with my dad, who at 72, is starting to get on a bit. To be able to feel like a child again with my dad, doing the same things we’ve done together since I can remember made me feel very young and carefree.”

Parker's time in Somerset also allowed him to learn more about his father’s life. “There are questions that you don’t think to ask until you spend a prolonged period of time together,” he said. “Once the mundane topics have been covered, the interesting questions are all that’s left. It felt like learning about the man behind the person I’d called dad for so long.”

Parker said he will remember this period spent at home as among the fondest times in his life.

A photo of Parker’s girlfriend, Sophie Kobylinski, pictured towards the end of lockdown. Photograph by Jack Parker / North by Northwestern

“After slowly returning to the strangeness of ‘normal life’ and our new reality with the advent of vaccines, it was great to slip away once more to a place where masks, vaccine cards, maximum occupancy requirements and shelter in place mandates didn’t affect your day to day routine,” Parker said. “It was one of the few modes of life that COVID-19 hadn’t really interfered with, and so it felt like an escape to simpler times.”

Parker said he took this photograph in a moment of stillness. “It was one of those slow mornings where time doesn’t seem to be a factor,” he said. “We read the papers, drank coffee and talked quietly over breakfast. I think the expression captures the peaceful nature of the day.”

One of the things that Parker likes the most about this photograph is the quiet intensity of Kobylinski’s expression. “You can’t quite turn away from it,” he said.

Phoenix, Arizona

Photograph by Zinya Salfiti / North by Northwestern

During the pandemic, Zinya Salfiti, a senior in Medill, stayed in Arizona with her cousins because she couldn’t go back home to Jordan.

“At the beginning of lockdown, having so much free time invited more anxiety than it did relaxation," Salfiti said. "My mind constantly drifted from one worrisome thought to another. When would I be able to go back home to Jordan? What are online classes going to be like? How should I make use of all this time?"

Art made her feel more grounded, and put her at ease.

"I found so much stillness in painting, drawing and doing art,” Salfiti said. “I learned that it shouldn’t take a pandemic for me to press pause on my life and pick up a paint brush.”

San José, Costa Rica

Photograph by Sharon Kleiman / North by Northwestern

Medill senior Sharon Kleiman said one of her highlights was spending time with her boyfriend, Mateo Esquivel, at a time when everything was closed.

“We met amid COVID-19, and since we couldn’t do what you would usually do on a date, such as going to a bar or going out for dinner, our dates were very intimate,” Kleiman said. “We went out for adventures in nature, such as hiking and swimming in waterfalls and did a lot of talking as well.”

This photo was captured a morning in which she woke up and found Esquivel playing music on her balcony.

“Mateo is a musician, so he loves playing, and I love listening to him. Just love and music, nothing external,” Kleiman said.

Punta Mona, Costa Rica

Photograph by Sharon Kleiman / North by Northwestern

During the pandemic, Kleiman also lived in a permaculture farm for six months called Punta Mona, where she met Jacob Stone.

“Jacob was one of my friends I connected with the most,” Kleiman said. “Although times were hard, Jacob said that the breakdown that was going was also a moment for breakthrough, and that he was hoping for a brighter future,” she says.

This photo was captured while Stone and Kleiman were talking about “The Power of Now” and being thankful that they could be with the earth and a community, and not in isolation.

Punta Cometa, Mazunte, Mexico

Photograph by Ana Cuartas / North by Northwestern

McCormick junior Ana Cuartas enjoyed the opportunity to go to Mexico and visit one of her friends. This photo shows her friend Lucia Hinojosa on a walk with Cuartas.

“This moment was special to me because it was taken on my first trip after the lockdown, which I appreciated much more than the previous trips after the tough quarantine that I had,” Cuartas said.

This time was also valuable to Cuartas because it allowed her to explore photography more, and dedicate more time to it, which is something she had not done for a long time.

“I was able to try out different subjects and lighting in ways I never had,” she said. “I had previously been avoiding photos featuring people in them, and just stuck to still life.”

Athens, Greece

Photograph by Maria Tegopoulou / North by Northwestern

Maria Tegopoulou, a Weinberg junior, said she enjoyed spending time with her sister, as she is an international student from Athens and studying away from home gives them less time together.

“When I first arrived in Athens from Evanston, I had to quarantine away from my family,” Tegopoulou said. “This photo was taken the first time I saw my sister, Mariana, after lockdown restrictions were lifted. I love that I had the chance to spend more time with her, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible since I study abroad.”

Frederick, Maryland

Photograph by Hannah Soltani / North by Northwestern

Weinberg senior Hannah Soltani was sitting on the porch with her family on a summer day during COVID-19.

“My dad would play his music, and we would just enjoy each other’s presence,” Soltani said.

Since they spent a lot of time together, Soltani says that she was able to have conversations with her parents about their past that she wouldn’t normally have.

“In this picture, my dad was telling a joke—like he always does—and my mom was laughing at him,” she said. “It was really beautiful. Good company, good food, good stories.”

Lima, Peru

Photograph by Antonia Mufarech / North by Northwestern

Personally, my favorite moments during the pandemic were sitting on my balcony at home in Lima, Peru and staring at the ocean in silence. It’s rare when we get to simply stare, and do nothing other than absorb the moment we find ourselves in.

Photograph by Antonia Mufarech / North by Northwestern

I was lucky enough to spend most of my time in Santa María del Mar in Lima, Peru, where sandy territories that had been abandoned by humans were claimed by seabirds. The birds of Santa María del Mar would all meet in the ocean, at the same time every day—and I would quietly watch.

Needless to say, it is important to recognize that not everyone’s pandemic has been spent in peace, and that it has been very hard for a lot of people to find moments of beauty and joy throughout their days. The glimpses of joy shared by students in this article are not a reflection of their lives as a whole. Nonetheless, these photographs might invite us to reflect on the moments that did bring us a reason to be thankful for.