One Bright Thing: New York Times Writers Share Moments That Lightened Their Mood

From a New York Times Insider feature “One Bright Thing: Amid the bleakness, 18 Times writers shared moments that lightened their mood”:

John Branch, sports reporter
New Sensations
It’s my heightened senses, especially at night. The stars are brighter than ever, the Big Dipper tipped as if pouring out unfamiliar stars looking to be noticed. The ambient sound in my suburban neighborhood now comes from inside my ears, as if the world’s a seashell. Gone is the soft hum of faraway traffic or the sporadic rumble of neighborhood cars coming home; absent are the barking dogs, since their owners are always near.

In their places are critters rustling in the ivy, light rain dripping into the gutters, late-night whispers of my teenage daughter to a friend’s screen across town. The smell of smoke from the chimney of one next-door neighbor, and the pungent musk of fresh bark delivered in a pile to the other, send silent signals that they are OK. Yesterday, in the front yard, I noticed a spot of grass riffling amid the calm sea of blades. It was an unseen mole, chewing on roots. I am numbed to the outside world, but a quarantined superhero of the senses.

Motoko Rich, Tokyo bureau chief
Handcrafted Wishes
The idea was staring us in the face. We had finished off a package of dark chocolate Kit Kats and I was about to throw it away. Nestle Japan had recently changed the packaging from plastic to paper, and it was printed with a suggestion that we cut out a square panel and fold it into a paper crane.

It had been years since I had actually folded an orizuru — as they are known in Japanese — and the packaging paper was rather bulky. But my 15-year-old daughter had a package of tiny 2 inch by 2 inch origami papers, and her fingers are nimble. Within minutes, she had finished a perfectly formed miniature crane.

I suggested we make it a nightly habit — folding a crane or two, aiming for 1,000. In Japan, families and friends sometimes fold a thousand cranes — senbazuru — to give to someone who is ill, to wish them a speedy recovery. My mother folded 1,000 cranes for my husband’s and my wedding, for luck. Maybe by the time we get to 1,000, there will be a coronavirus vaccine.

We’ve been going only for a few nights so far. Sometimes I still have to ask my 13-year-old son to remind me what step comes next. My edges are not always crisp as I would like. The folds are slightly off kilter. My cranes are not nearly as graceful as my daughter’s. We place our finished birds on a cherry wood tray carved by my mother, who is far away, under lockdown with my father in California. It is calming, this act of folding together.

James Barron, metro reporter
Right in Time
I’m probably going to get in trouble at home for not saying something about celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, which was two weeks ago, but I’m going to go with Ravel’s “Boléro.” Who likes that piece? It’s so relentlessly repetitive, it’s annoying. The first time Ravel picked out the melody on the piano, he asked, “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality?” Exactly. It only gets bigger. Louder. More and more bombastic. The faster it’s played, the sooner it’s over — and there was a backstage contretemps in 1930 when Arturo Toscanini hit the accelerator (Ravel preferred a slower tempo).

And yet: What captivated me was a performance of “Boléro” by the National Orchestra of France that I came across on YouTube. The musicians played together from wherever they were — their living rooms, their kitchens, their bedrooms. One violinist appeared to be outdoors. The whole thing was a wonderful demonstration of how an orchestra does what it does. The video started with three players. The screen divided to four, then five, then nine when the harpist came in. Eventually 48 were in the grid on the screen, though more must have been playing. The idea that they had to play “Boléro” that way broke my heart. Other orchestras have done similar performances online. But this one changed my mind about the piece — and showed that despite our isolated, locked-down lives, it’s still possible to do something in concert. Literally.

Lauretta Charlton, editor, Race/related team
Never-ending Connections
When I learned that a friend was sick and at home with Covid-19, I sent her a handwritten note in the mail. I didn’t know if she would ever read it. There was a chance her symptoms would get worse and she would be hospitalized. What I did know was that my note wishing her well, letting her know that I was thinking about her, praying for her, would be delivered. In times like these, it becomes clear very quickly what is essential. Friendship is one of them, but also things like the United States Postal Service. My friend is one of the lucky ones. She has recovered. She read my note. She was grateful. And so am I.

Ellen Barry, New England bureau chief
Soaking in Solace
I stopped taking baths in my late 20s, on the premise that my time was valuable. Showers were the style of the adult I wanted to be, brisk and efficient. I looked for ways to ratchet up their efficiency, like drinking coffee concurrently, learning to ignore the taste of soap.

These days, after days spent making phone calls to suffering people, I find myself once again in the bath, staring at the ceiling, letting time slide by. In the bath, I have wetly paged through a book about Putin’s K.G.B. cronies and a book about zombies, leaving them stiff and ruffled. My daughter peers in at me incredulously; I have used up all her bath bombs and moved on to Epsom salts, archaic and medicinal. If she challenges my claim to the bathroom, I do not respond, but instead remove myself, serenely, below the surface of the water.

Katherine Rosman, features reporter
Survivin’ in a Lonely World

South Detroit doesn’t exist, as the seven of us well know. We are friends all, sisters some, having grown up together in Michigan and now living different lives in three different states. Last week, we got together over a Zoom video conference organized by my older sister, Lizzie, to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the Journey anthem that includes the ridiculous lyric about the city boy born and raised in a neighborhood of Detroit that isn’t.

That was the sole purpose of the get-together, to belt out that song off-key and at the top of our lungs. It was cathartic, it was funny, it was energizing. Then we each returned to the new realities of our homes, families and jobs, clinging to the boost that being unfiltered with your friends can give and which goes on and on and on and on.

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